General election 2017: Social care

With just a few days until the election UNISON looks at what the main parties have to say on social care – one of the issues that matter most to our members

With just a few days to go, UNISON looks at what the main parties have to say on the issues that are most important to our members

Quality care for all those who need it

UNISON believes all those who need social care should have access to it, and that it should be of a high quality.

We have been campaigning for this for a long time, and one of the things we have been doing is persuading local councils, who are responsible for homecare, to sign up to our Ethical Care Charter.

The charter is a simple way for councils to improve homecare for the vulnerable people they are responsible for. It is a set of commitments that councils make that fix minimum standards to protect the dignity and quality of life for those people and the workers who care for them.

That’s why we’re pleased that the Labour Party manifesto includes a policy to implement our charter.

Labour also wants to build a Care Service for England, which will provide “dignity in older age and independence and support for people who are vulnerable or have a disability or a mental health condition.”

In contrast, the Conservative party manifesto does not mention the 1.2 million people who are currently not having their social care needs met.

It refers to a forthcoming green paper that will “address system-wide issues to improve the quality of care and reduce variation in practice.

“This will ensure the care system works better with the NHS to reduce unnecessary and unhealthy hospital stays and delayed transfers of care, and provide better quality assurance within the care sector,” it says.  “We will reduce loneliness and promote technological solutions to prolong independent living, and invest in dementia research.”

UNISON assistant national officer for social care Matthew Egan thinks it is worrying that the Conservative manifesto does not mention anyone who may need care but is not elderly. Disabled people, people with mental health illnesses and people recovering from injury also need care.

Mr Egan also says “the quality of care needs to be improved in a lot of areas in the UK, but the Conservative manifesto does not have much detail on how to improve the quality.”

The quality of care needs to be improved in a lot of areas in the UK, but the Conservative manifesto does not have much detail on how to improve the quality


A social care system that is funded adequately and fairly

Anyone can be struck down by injury or illness. UNISON thinks we should pool the risks, so that those who are unlucky enough to suffer from an accident or an illness, such as dementia, shouldn’t have to lose their life savings to pay for it.

The social care section of the Conservative party’s manifesto is probably the most condemned.

There was previously a plan to put a cap on how much people must spend on their own care over their lifetime (£72,000), but Theresa May’s manifesto takes away that cap. Instead, it sets out a plan to introduce a figure for how much people can keep, after paying for their homecare (£100,000).

The means-test for homecare would now also include the value of someone’s home (though not payable until after their death, so they don’t lose their home during their life time).

The proposed policy caused public outrage and the move was dubbed a ‘dementia tax’, because those who suffer from an illness such as cancer would be treated for free on the NHS, while those with dementia could potentially pay hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Mrs May has since backtracked and said there would be a cap – but she hasn’t said what that will be.

The Conservatives have said they’ll put more money into social care through means testing winter fuel allowance payments, which they say would free up more cash.

Mr Egan says the emphasis in the Conservative manifesto is on people paying for themselves. He also points out that the system needs funding urgently, noting: “Councils need the money to pay for social care today. Making people pay for their care with the equity from their home after they die won’t put cash in the system soon enough. Their proposals create more questions than answers”.

When it comes to funding their social care service for England, the Labour Party manifesto says the service will require an extra £3bn ayear in its first years, “enough to place a maximum limit on lifetime personal contributions to care costs, raise the asset threshold below which people are entitled to state support, and provide free end-of-life care.”

They will seek consensus on a cross-party basis about how it should be funded, with options “including wealth taxes, an employer care contribution or a new social care levy.”

The Liberal Democrat manifesto also seeks to fund social care through taxation, through “an immediate 1p rise on the basic, higher and additional rates of income tax to raise £6bn additional revenue, which would be ring-fenced to be spent only on NHS and social care services.”

In the longer term, the income tax rise will be replaced with a dedicated health and care tax, possibly based on a reform of National Insurance contributions.

In Scotland, the SNP has committed to investing an extra £1.7bn in Scotland’s health and social care partnerships.

A care workforce that is valued, respected, and paid fairly

Care workers have been treated poorly for a very long time. They are frequently over-worked, under-paid and disrespected.

The Conservative manifesto appears to forget about the people who work in the care sector. They do mention family members who look after loved ones, and propose a policy that would “give workers a new statutory entitlement to carers’ leave.”

Mr Egan thinks this policy shows how out of touch the manifesto is, as the carers’ leave would be unpaid, which most workers cannot afford.

“The burden will inevitable fall disproportionately on women, which makes it an even more regressive policy.”

The burden will inevitable fall disproportionately on women, which makes it an even more regressive policy

In Wales, Plaid Cymru has said it will introduce a social care rescue plan which will help people to live independently and increase the role of community hospitals.

“We will ensure that health and social care services are seamlessly provided. A Plaid Cymru carers’ contract will support those who care for others.”

UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter, which the Labour Party would implement as policy, includes commitments that homecare workers are paid the real Living Wage, are paid for their travel time, are given adequate training, and more.

The Labour party would also raise the minimum wage to the level of the living wage, which is expected to be at least £10 an hour by 2020. It will apply to all workers over 18.

As homecare workers are usually paid the minimum wage (or less), this would make a big difference to their lives.