Social Care Funding and the new Conservative Government

Social Care Funding and the New Conservative Government

The 2019 election saw the Conservative Party win seats that may define the Government’s attitude to reforming care funding. 

By James Lloyd

The 2019 Conservative election manifesto said little on care funding in England, promising just £1 billion extra each year toward the local authority care system and for the new Government to seek cross-party consensus on long-term reform. 

This disappointed campaigners who heard the Prime Minister highlight the challenge of social care funding on his arrival into Downing Street.

The Conservative Party’s 2017 election manifesto promises on care funding are widely acknowledged to have cost it seats, so it’s perhaps no surprise that campaign chiefs gave such little prominence to social care in 2019.

However, at the start of a new Parliament with a majority Conservative Government, the political  parameters of debate on care funding in England have arguably changed substantially. 

Despite the manifesto nod to cross-party consensus, the substantial Conservative majority of 80 means that for the first time in 14 years, the Government might feel that with the prospect of 10 years in power, they can proceed without cross-party consensus on reforming care funding.

More importantly, the dramatic political shifts that underpinned the Conservative Party’s victory are likely to change how this Government thinks about care funding reform. 

The Conservative Party assembled its 2019 majority from traditional Labour heartlands like Workington and Bolsover. By pushing through Brexit, it will probably forgo for a generation more urban, Remain-leaning seats – including most of London.

This means the Conservative Party cannot afford to lose the old Labour seats it has secured if it wants to win power again. Party strategists will already be thinking hard about how these seats can be retained in 2024 when Brexit will – they hope – simply never be mentioned on the doorstep. 

The crux is this: having won old Labour seats, the Conservatives will need to act more like an “old Labour” party, and this will inevitably shape how the Government thinks about reform of care funding in England.

In the past, many Conservative backbenchers have seen the policy challenge of care funding as an opportunity to advance ‘post-Welfare State’ solutions born out of free-market, small-state thinking, and a core belief that it is up to individuals to protect themselves. 

To some extent, this explained Conservative Party’s enthusiasm for the Dilnot Commission’s ‘capped cost’ reforms, with its promise to unleash a new wave of social care financial products. When it became clear that no care insurance products would in fact be introduced, Conservative Ministers scrapped the reforms. 

The Conservative Party’s new electoral dependence on seats like Don Valley is likely to reset how the Government thinks about funding care. In seats such as Sedgefield, new Conservative MPs are unlikely to embed the party’s support by talking on the doorstep about solving the social care funding crisis through “innovative equity release products”. 

Instead, the Government will have to focus on how voters in these areas experience the care system, where the underfunding of the local authority safety-net looms larger than a focus on protecting inheritances.

This Conservative Government will also have to reconsider a bigger role for the state in funding care, putting the emphasis on collectivist models and universal entitlements, taking into account the regular focus-group finding that most voters feel social care should be funded “like the NHS”.

In 2024 and 2029, these ageing, ex-industrial, old Labour seats will be feeling the effects of the care funding crisis even more acutely than now. We can expect to see social care campaigners surgically targeting the new Conservative MPs emerging from these ex-Labour heartlands, bringing them face-to-face with the effects of funding shortfalls, positioning them as advocates for reform and testing different options in their constituencies. 

By dramatically shifting its political base in 2019, the Conservative Party will have to dramatically change itself as well. How the party now addresses the challenge of reforming care funding will provide a key measure of whether it has.

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