Liberal Democrats pledge free personal care for adults in need in England

Day-to-day care for adults in need, including the elderly and disabled, would be free under a Liberal Democrat government, the party has pledged.

Leader Sir Ed Davey described the issue as “deeply personal for me” as he vowed to place “fixing the care crisis” at the heart of his party’s offer to voters.

Provision of care should be based on need rather than ability to pay, the party said, as it promised what it described as free personal care for people either at home or in care homes.

This would cover nursing care, help with mobility, hygiene and medication, it said, adding that people in residential care would still have to contribute towards their accommodation.

The party said its plan covers social care for those over 18, including working age adults, the elderly, and the disabled.

The Liberal Democrats have been praised by some within the sector for making a pledge, with other major political parties urged to “stop avoiding the topic and explain how they will deliver much-needed reform of a social care system that is not fit for purpose”.

The party said its plan for England – based on the model introduced by the Liberal Democrats in government in Scotland in 2002 – would cost £2.7 billion a year by 2028-29, and would be “fully funded” by reversing tax cuts for the big banks since 2016.

The Liberal Democrats said their plan could also save the NHS up to £3 billion a year through reduced pressure on hospitals and other NHS services.

The party said its plan also includes a carer’s minimum wage set £2 above the general minimum wage “to tackle the huge shortage of care workers”, and the creation of a Royal College of Care Workers, similar to the Royal Colleges of Nursing and Midwives.

Sir Ed said: “As a carer for my disabled son, and after caring for my ill mother when I was young, care is deeply personal for me.

“That is why I am putting fixing the care crisis at the heart of the Liberal Democrat offer to the country at this election.

Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey said the issue of care is deeply personal to him (Yui Mok/PA)
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the issue of care is deeply personal to him (Yui Mok/PA)

“Far too often, family carers are being left to pick up the pieces because the care system simply isn’t there for them.

“Millions of people are going without the care they need, while thousands are stuck in hospital beds instead of being cared for in their own home or a care home.

“We cannot fix the crisis facing the NHS without fixing the crisis facing social care.

“The Liberal Democrats would bring in free personal care to help people live independently and with dignity, in their own homes wherever possible.”

Adult social care charging reforms – including an £86,000 cap on the amount anyone in England has to spend on their personal care over their lifetime – had been due to be implemented by the Conservative Government from October 2023 but were delayed by two years.

While the first major reference to social care in this election campaign has been generally welcomed by sector organisations, the Nuffield Trust think tank suggested the costing attached to both the personal care pledge and the vow to raise care workers’ pay “looks to be inadequate”.

Nuffield Trust fellow Camille Oung said while the party is “right to put the desperate need to improve social care as a key part of their election proposals”, all parties “should see comprehensive reform of care as a priority (which) needs to be built on credible and sustainable funding rather than further tinkering at the edges”.

She added: “Without adequate funding, stretched local authorities would struggle to deal with an increase in demand for personal care, as was seen in the early years of implementation in Scotland.

“We want to see a social care system that enables people to make choices to live their lives, and it’s unlikely this will be achieved by defining a narrow package of care that appears only focused on older people.”

Care England, a representative body for social care providers, said it was “encouraging” and “reassuring” to see a party set out a plan for social care.

Its chief executive, Professor Martin Green, said: “It is encouraging to see a major political party putting their head above the parapet and addressing social care for the first time during this General Election campaign.

“There’s no shying away from the fact our sector needs substantial investment, and it’s reassuring the importance of the social care sector has been recognised the Liberal Democrats.”

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of The King’s Fund charity, said it was “heartening to see a political party pledge to begin to address the crisis in social care”.

She added: “We hope other major political parties stop avoiding the topic  and explain how they will deliver much-needed reform of a social care system that is not fit for purpose.”

While she said free personal care would be a “significant step forward from the current social care offer in England”, it is “not a panacea and will not cover everything that is needed to put social care back on a sustainable footing so it can support people to live good quality lives in their communities”.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK and co-chair of the CSA (Care Support Alliance), said it would be “essential” to ensure there is enough funding and sufficient numbers of well-trained staff to make free personal care work.

She added: “Reforming and refinancing social care is one of the most pressing challenges of our time and that’s why we think it’s the responsibility of every political party at this election to set out how it will bring forward a funded solution, if elected to government.”

Anna Hemmings, chief executive of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass), said universal free personal care “would allow people to plan for the future, giving greater peace of mind about what care and support they could access” and called on all the main political parties to “prioritise social care in this election, and in the next government”.

But Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group, which has providers in York and North Yorkshire said while the Lib Dem pledges are “very welcome, as far as they go” there must be “true, root and branch reform of social care, which requires the creation of a National Care Service, to bring NHS and social care under one roof and better investment into social care to make that possible”.

The Royal College of Nursing said it supports the proposals for free personal care but cautioned that the plan “could be limited“ without a bigger nursing workforce to deliver it.