Social care needs a big idea – long-term, carefully developed, cross-party – and today’s budget was never going to deliver on that. What it did deliver was £2 billion for the care sector – with half of this coming in 2017-18. That will come as a great relief to local authorities who manage desperately strained care budgets and to health leaders who can’t discharge people from their hospitals because care services are not in place to help them in the community.
Care providers – the vast majority of whom are in the for-profit or not-for-profit sectors rather than public sector – are nervous that the money will get stuck in local authorities and they won’t see the cash they need to keep services viable. But at least we don’t have the outrage and disappointment that followed the 2016 Autumn Statement, when high hopes for a response to the care crisis were dashed.
Hammond talked of the need to be strategic about the long-term challenges facing the care sector – he announced that a green paper would be published on funding challenges later this year. A “big idea” for care has eluded recent governments, none of whom have quite worked out how to get enough money into a care system designed for the problems of 1948 at the beginning of the welfare state. The Cabinet Office is working on a paper about long-term options for care reform – let’s hope it’s a good one.