Will Jeremy Hunt’s new job title make any difference to the rather precarious state of the social care sector? Opposition parties have been accusing Theresa May of ‘window-dressing’ by changing the name of the Health department to the Department of Health and Social Care – though if this reshuffle is about window-dressing, May must never, ever consider a career in retail. Changing names does signal intentions, but it can also have no more effect on policy than a change in stationery.
Hunt will be taking control of the government’s green paper on social care, which as I’ve been reporting, hasn’t been so much kicked into the long grass as chucked into a forest so that no one raises the toxic issue in the way they did in the election. The Health and Social Care Secretary is known to have been frustrated by some of the lack of enthusiasm for coming up with a long-term solution for social care funding, and has been pressing for a while for the NHS and social care to be better integrated, so his request for more control of the policy makes a great deal of sense.
I understand, though, that there are no plans to change the mechanism by which local authorities are funded for social care, which is through the local government finance settlement, administered by the (renamed) Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. But all options are on the table for the long-term funding question, and Hunt is likely to be keen to want to consult very carefully on any proposals, given one of the reasons the manifesto pledge on social care fell apart was that no-one (including Hunt) had been consulted on it before it was announced. The process set up by Damian Green when he was First Secretary of State is also unlikely to change, as Hunt has long been a fan of the expert working group looking at possible solutions. What may be more difficult, for a little while at least, is Hunt managing to persuade May to make a decision on social care when he is now rather less popular with Number 10 as a result of refusing to move in this reshuffle.