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Coronavirus pandemic could delay reforms to social care, health secretary says

Pandemic means it will not be 'straightforward' to meet Boris Johnson's promise of producing plans by the end of 2020, says Matt Hancock

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 02 June 2020 17:59 BST
Coronavirus: Hancock admits that social care reform could be delayed

Long-awaited reforms to England’s rickety social care system could be delayed by the coronavirus outbreak, health secretary Matt Hancock has admitted.

Boris Johnson promised in January to draw up proposals for change to the perennially cash-strapped system by the end of this year and to drive them through by the time of the next election in 2024.

But Mr Hancock told the daily coronavirus briefing in 10 Downing Street that the unexpected pandemic had knocked preparations off course, meaning it will not be "straightforward" to meet the prime minister's target.

He said: “Well, the time frame has been clear, which is that we have got to get these reforms done in this parliament and the prime minister has previously said we will get them set out this year.

“That was before coronavirus – we will still try to do that but it is not straightforward.”

On his arrival at 10 Downing Street in July last year, Mr Johnson claimed to have a ready-to-go rescue package to resolve long-standing problems with the funding of social care for the elderly and long-term sick.

But the Conservative manifesto for last December's general election ducked the issue, promising only to seek cross-party consensus, in an apparent attempt to avoid the threat of new taxes to pay for a cap on care costs derailing Mr Johnson's campaign as it did Theresa May's in 2017.

The party committed to annual additional funding of £1 billion for every year of this parliament, but councils warned that this would not be enough to fill the black hole in their finances for social care.

Responding to Mr Hancock's comments, Alzheimer's Society director of research Fiona Carragher said: “Every day we delay fixing social care is another day of desperation and financial hardship for people with dementia and their families. Of course the Government needs to focus on tackling Covid-19 - but that’s precisely why social care must be sorted or we fear we will face another disaster for people with dementia if the virus peaks again in autumn.

“Let’s be clear, a quarter of people who have died from coronavirus had dementia, aside from the mass unexplained increase in deaths from dementia alone during this time - over 80 per cent. Social care was already buckling, the increased pressure of coronavirus is having a tragic effect - People with dementia and their families cannot be left without essential care as providers are forced to close nor should they be expected to bear the burden of astronomical costs increasing further."

Mr Hancock said that the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen around a third of Covid-19 deaths affecting care home residents, had given extra impetus to the drive to support social care.

“One of the positive things amid the terrible things that have happened during this crisis is that people have recognised social care and just how important it is," said the health secretary.

“We need to follow that up with reforms to the way social care is supported and make sure more people get that dignity in their older age, and that people of working age get the support they need.

“I am determined to push forward the social care reforms that I know so many are interested in.”

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