Headlines were made last week by calls from Dr Dan Poulter – a former health minister – for an additional tax to fund health and social care in order to save it from collapse. Poulter’s experiences make him an astute judge of the sector’s performance. As well as serving as a minister in the Department of Health, he is a fully trained gynaecological practitioner and still continues to work as a doctor for the NHS on a part time basis. Furthermore, the fact that a former Conservative frontbencher, who is unlikely to be an enthusiastic proponent of higher taxes, is supporting a tax illustrates the magnitude of the challenges faced by the health and social care sector.
Poulter suggests that the sectors need a “special tax that will guarantee an income stream, rather than policies like the cap which are entirely dependent on the economic climate of the moment.” He goes on to suggest the government needs to appreciate the scale of the social care crisis and that the reality is at least a million people aren’t getting the basic care they need.
The social care sector is in dire need of a permanent and comprehensive funding solution if it is to be able to keep providing high quality care for the millions of people who require it across the country. The scale of the challenges faced are vast. Local councils have to manage a £1bn shortfall in their social care budgets, which has resulted in some alarming cutbacks; many have had to reduce the number of services they are able to provide, and visits have been shortening in length to the detriment of the quality of care provided.
The sector’s financial challenges now present themselves at every level of the social care system. Over the last parliament, it is estimated that the government cut more than £4.6 billion from its social care budget. The ramifications of which can be felt down the chain: as a result of council cuts, care providers subsequently see their revenues fall which risks lowering standards and even forcing operators out of business.
A recent BBC study reported that 25% of care homes are at risk of going out of business due to their precarious financial situation – which would have severe repercussions for society’s most vulnerable people. Furthermore, while employees in the sector are rightly benefitting from a deserved pay rise following the introduction of the increased National Minimum Wage (NMW), jobs will be at risk if providers go under.
While a health and social care income tax is not necessarily the best way of tackling the health and social care funding crisis, it is good to see policymakers at the highest echelons of government looking for innovative solutions, something that is quite clearly needed.