Devil will be in detail of surprising move on personal care says The King's Fund

Commenting on the Prime Minister's announcement of free personal care in his speech to Labour conference this afternoon, The King's Fund Chief Executive Niall Dickson said:

'The government's ongoing commitment to reform social care funding is welcome, although this is a somewhat surprising move considering that ministers had previously ruled out free personal care. We will need to look at these plans in more detail.

'This pledge of free care, which they plan to bring in from October next year, is for those in the highest need living in their own homes.

'The government estimates this will cost £670 million and benefit 350,000 older people.

'On the face of it, targeting those in greatest need has a strong appeal, but as ever when you do something for one part of the system there is a danger of creating perverse incentives.

'Assuming the extra funds from central government won’t be ring-fenced, there is a danger that local authorities will have a perverse incentive to encourage people into residential care, where many older people will still have to pay out of their own pockets.

'We will also have to be clear how this new announcement fits with the proposals in the social care Green Paper. The government spent more than a year developing the options, and is now in the middle of a major consultation, yet this idea was not among them.

'It does seem slightly odd to produce this rabbit from a hat just as the debate is getting under way.

'In his speech the Prime Minister also seemed to redefine the meaning of a National Care Service – in the Green Paper it was described as a service to sit alongside the NHS. The speech, on the other hand, implies that social care and health care will in some unspecified way become part of one service.

'Again, the devil will be in the detail.'

Notes to editors: 

  1. People are assessed for access to social care services on a four-point scale by their local authorities; those with the highest need are categorised as ‘critical’.
  2. For further information or interviews, please contact The King’s Fund press and public affairs office on 020 7307 2585, 020 7307 2632 or 020 7307 2581. An ISDN line is available for interviews on 020 7637 0185.
  3. The King’s Fund is a charity that seeks to understand how the health system in England can be improved. Using that insight, we help to shape policy, transform services and bring about behaviour change. Our work includes research, analysis, leadership development and service improvement. We also offer a wide range of resources to help everyone working in health to share knowledge, learning and ideas.