Social care cap architect astonished over ‘really distressing’ reform delay

The architect of the original plans for a social care cap has said he is “astonished” over the “really distressing and deeply regrettable” decision to postpone long-awaited reforms.

Sir Andrew Dilnot told the PA news agency the delay “seems like a breach of promise for some of the most vulnerable people in our society”.

To let this group down now “feels like a really, really distressing and deeply regrettable act”, while hundreds of thousands of people working in the NHS and social care will also be affected, he said.

On Thursday, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt confirmed that reforms promised by Boris Johnson’s government will be delayed for two years, while also announcing billions of funding to help deliver more care packages.

He praised the “heroic” work of the sector looking after children, and older and disabled people during the coronavirus pandemic.

But he said an ageing population is heaping massive pressure on services, and he has heard “very real concerns” from councils about their ability to deliver the reforms.

These include an £86,000 cap on personal care cost contributions, and an expanded means test that is more generous than the existing one, which had been due to come into effect from October 2023.

Mr Dilnot said he is “deeply disappointed, I’m puzzled and I’m astonished”, pointing out the hundreds of thousands of families have been banking on the changes coming through next year.

He told PA: “And we’ve heard a lot today about protecting the most vulnerable and about compassion as a British value.

“And really, it’s hard to think of a group that is more vulnerable and more deserving of compassion than people with significant social care needs.

“And by not going through with these reforms, we’re leaving people and their families who are facing that absolutely on their own until they’re down to their last £23,250.”

He added: “The Government promised in September of last year, to one of the most vulnerable groups in our whole country, that it would do this, and to let them down now feels like a really, really distressing and deeply regrettable act.”

In his budget, Mr Hunt said he is allocating social care additional grant funding of £1 billion next year, and £1.7 billion the year after, noting that he wants the sector to help free up some of the thousands of hospital beds being occupied by people who should be at home.

This, combined with savings from the delayed reforms, and “more council tax flexibilities”, will mean increases in available funding of up to £2.8 billion next year and £4.7 billion the following year, he said.

He continued: “But how we look after our most vulnerable citizens is not just a practical issue, it speaks to our values as a society.

“So today’s decision will allow the social care system to deliver an estimated 200,000 more care packages over the next two years – the biggest increase in funding under any Government, of any colour, in history.”

The County Councils Network said postponing the reforms is “a brave decision but completely the right one”.

Its chairman, Councillor Tim Oliver, said: “We understand that many will be disappointed but postponing these reforms and reinvesting significant additional funding into frontline care services is strongly welcomed and will protect the most vulnerable in our society as well as buy councils vital time to stabilise the care system.

“This will go a long way to enable us to address existing pressures, commission more care packages, and ensure that the reforms are a success on day one of their introduction in 2025.”

Health and Social Care Committee chairman Steve Brine said the extra funding falls short of the additional £7bn a year that members had called for a year ago when Mr Hunt led the committee.

He said the delay is “disappointing even if it is well motivated”, adding: “The result will be that more people face the very real prospect of crippling bills with the cap now not coming into effect until October 2025.”

Sam Monaghan, chief executive of Methodist Homes (MHA), the country’s largest charitable care provider, said Mr Hunt “has made the smallest steps in terms of turning his words into actions”.

He said: “Any additional money for social care is welcomed, but this is so far from the billions we need if we are to fund the sector properly, support the NHS in discharges from hospital and stem the tide of those leaving care work.”

Chris Thomas, head of the Institute for Public Policy Research’s commission on health and prosperity, called further reform delay “nothing short of a travesty”.

The King’s Fund said the increased funding suggests the Government has recognised the “perilous” state of the sector, but it is unclear how much additional funding will need to come from council tax rises.

The Carers Trust warned of the real danger that the Government is “passing the buck” on to councils to raise extra tax for social care, which would create a postcode lottery of wildly varying access.

Chief executive Kirsty McHugh said: “Despite repeated Government promises to fix social care, we remain deeply concerned that the investment and extra care packages announced won’t go far enough.”