Two of the biggest unsolved domestic crises in this country are surely social care and housing. Both have creaked from ‘in trouble’ to ‘already in crisis’ without much in the way of serious policy or money from successive governments. Today, ministers turned their attention to both matters, making rather different announcements on how they might deal with them.
First up, social care. Since the Tories made a mess of their social care policy in the snap election of 2017, the sector itself has plunged into an even deeper mess, with providers and local authorities warning that not only are they struggling to do what they’re supposed to do with so little funding, but that they are also not sure how they are going to afford a massive bill for employees’ back pay following a court ruling on sleep-in shifts for carers. You might think that the magnitude of those problems would mean the Conservatives realised that they really do need to get over their manifesto misery on social care and get on with setting out a clear timetable for implementing a long-term sustainable funding settlement.
But no. Coffee House has been reporting for the past few months that the green paper on social care promised by Theresa May in the snap election campaign was going to be very green and rather similar in appearance to long grass. Today, that was confirmed in a written ministerial statement by First Secretary of State Damian Green, who wrote that the green paper will be published by summer 2018, much later than had originally been suggested. ‘To deliver a lasting solution, it is right that we take the time needed to debate these complex issues and listen to a range of perspectives to build consensus. For this reason, over the coming months, we will work with experts, stakeholders and people using care and support services to shape the long-term reform which is urgently needed.’ This all sounds very noble. The problem is that those stakeholders have offered their views several times already, with nothing coming of their efforts each time. MPs who have been campaigning on this matter such as Tory Sarah Wollaston and Lib Dem Norman Lamb have argued that now is the time to get on with a proper timetable for implementing a reform, not trying to have yet another lengthy discussion.
Another social issue that has had plenty of lengthy discussions is housebuilding. As James sets out today in his pre-Budget politics column, housing is one of the most pressing political issues for the Tories, both in terms of the need to increase the supply of new homes so young people can get on the housing ladder (and thereby fall into the category in which someone is most likely to vote Conservative), and in terms of the split between small ‘c’ conservatives who live in Shire England or constituencies with green belt in them and the free-market liberals who want a dramatic liberalisation of planning laws.
Today, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid gave a speech in which he stuck up for millennials who cannot afford to buy a house, taking on claims from baby boomers that they do actually have the money but instead choose to spend it on sandwiches, avocados and holidays. ‘last year, the average first-time buyer in London needed a deposit – a deposit – of more than £90,000,’ he said, adding: ‘£90,000! That’s a lot of avocados.’ Javid made a number of announcements on intervening on councils who still hadn’t developed plans for housebuilding in their areas and the private status of housing associations, but as we discuss in our Coffee House Shots podcast, what was significant was that he suggested that all his colleagues are on board with his housing vision. We will see in next week’s Budget whether that strategy has paid off.