Page last updated at 00:13 GMT, Thursday, 3 December 2009

Social care - the next big issue?

ANALYSIS
By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Elderly woman's hands doing cross word
Social care is close to the top of the political agenda at the moment

A quick glance at the report into social care by the Care Quality Commission regulator, may suggest that everything is rosy in the sector.

But it does not take long for the impression to unravel. While 95% of councils in England got an excellent or good rating, it is clear that this has only been achieved because they are providing services to fewer people.

In the place of the state in has stepped an army of carers.

Estimates suggest there are nearly 6m people helping loved-ones wash, dress and eat - 1.5m of whom provide more than 20 hours of care a week.

And this is why social care - for the first time in many years - is near the top of the political agenda.

At this year's Labour party conference, Prime Minister Gordon Brown unveiled a headline-grabbing policy to give the most in need free care - as happens in Scotland.

The Tories have focused on care homes, promising a one-off £8,000 payment which will guarantee no-one will have to sell their homes to go into residential care.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems, particularly through their former health spokesman Paul Burstow, have been calling for reform of the creaking system for years.

But despite this focus, the reaction from campaigners has been lukewarm to say the least.

The policies have been described as a "sticking plaster" or just "one-piece of the jigsaw".

In truth, campaigners believe these interventions are just an attempt to woo the electorate ahead of next year's general election.

Instead, they would have preferred to see ministers - and the opposition parties - focus their attentions on the plans published in a green paper at the start of the summer.

To almost universal acclaim, Health Secretary Andy Burnham published a set of proposals to overhaul the entire social care system.

The suggestions were controversial. The most extreme involved a £20,000 bill on retirement to help fund the system.

Of course, that is not a vote winner and many do not expect to see the next stage - a white paper - to be published this side of an election.



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Review of long-term care funding
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