The Dilnot Commission's report will be launched on Monday in the midst of public sector disputes on pensions, uncertainties about NHS reform, a flurry of care scandals, and continuing widespread confusion about what social care actually is, let alone who pays for it and how.
At an event organised by the King's Fund and Age UK and reported through live-tweets, Paul Burstow MP, the Minister for Social Care, celebrated the fact we are all living longer, whilst being absolutely blunt about facing up to the realities of paying for care: social care 'has never been free and will never ever be free' – 'the boat has sailed' on a tax-funded social care system.
Burstow also cited the Anchor survey of 2,000 adults across Britain which found that 44% believed the state should fund all their care costs, although just 14% said they would be willing to pay higher taxes to underwrite the social care system.
All of this suggests that the best Dilnot might hope for on Monday is a lukewarm response from the public. We may want free care, but we don’t want to pay for it. Many of us think – wrongly – that we already pay for social care through National Insurance contributions. Often, it is only when you or someone you know starts to require care that the realities of the current, confusing, unfair and unsustainable system become clear.
Monday's report will be a wake-up call to all of us. Society is ageing: how are we going to ensure we can all enjoy a decent quality of life and access care and support if we need it? We all need to face up to what this means for us, our families, our communities. Those of who can afford to will have to pay – perhaps through insurance schemes or drawing down some of the equity in our homes. And the state will also need to contribute significantly more to meet the social care funding gap.
Dilnot's report will, though, be met with broad support from those involved in social care. Unlikely alliances have formed across private, public, voluntary and community sectors. All agree that the current system is broken and at crisis point; that Dilnot’s report will be considered and evidence-based; that none of us want it to meet the same fate that four previous commissions and reports have met over the last 15 years. Funding may only be one part of a much bigger challenge (Dilnot's brief was to tackle funding not quality, and our evidence shows that the relationship between the two is complicated), but without doubt it is a crucial part of that challenge.
We cannot allow the challenge of how we pay for care to be kicked – yet again – into the long grass. It is time for all of us to take a much greater interest in care and support, and to face up to the realities of a changing and ageing society. It is time for the Coalition Government to abide by its promises and deliver a White Paper that lifts social care into the 21st century.