Lib Dems plan to ring-fence £7bn a year for NHS and social care

The Liberal Democrats plan to ring-fence £7bn a year to be spent on NHS and social care services.

Publishing its manifesto yesterday (Wednesday 21 November), the party said the money would be generated from a 1p rise on the basic, higher and additional rates of income tax (not Scotland).

It said the money would be used to tackle urgent workforce shortages and invest in mental health and prevention services.

In the longer term, it also plans to commission the ‘development of a dedicated, progressive health and care tax’; establish a cross-party convention on the long-term sustainable funding of a joined-up system of health and social care.

It plans to invite patients’ groups, professionals, the public and the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to be a part of this work.

It also said it would introduce a statutory independent budget monitoring body for health and care, similar to the Office for Budget Responsibility, to report every three years on how much money the system needs to deliver safe and sustainable treatment and care, and how much is needed to meet the costs of projected increases in demand.

‘Our ultimate objective will be to bring together NHS, social care and public health seamlessly – pooling budgets in every area and supporting integrated care systems,’ it said. ‘We want to see services that work in a more joined-up way for the people who depend on them and with local democratic accountability and transparency.

‘We must move away from a fragmented system to an integrated service with more joined-up care, so that people can design services for their own individual needs.’

The party said it would also support the creation of a new professional body for care workers, to promote clear career pathways with ongoing training and development, and improved pay structures; introduce a new requirement for professional regulation of all care home managers, who would also be required to have a relevant qualification.

For care staff, it will set a target that 70% of workers should have an NVQ level 2 or equivalent. ‘We will provide support for ongoing training of care workers to improve retention and raise the status of caring,’ it said.

To help family carers, it said it would introduce a statutory guarantee of regular respite breaks for unpaid carers, and require councils to offer support and signpost services.

Responding to the manifesto, Richard Murray, chief executive of The King’s Fund, said: ‘The Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment to an extra £7bn a year in health and care funding is welcome recognition of the need to invest in services after a decade-long funding squeeze. Thankfully the party has also resisted the temptation a huge reorganisation of the NHS, allowing health and care leaders to focus on improving services.

‘It is encouraging to see proposals for addressing the severe staff shortages across the NHS and social care, although it’s unclear whether they are enough to deliver the various pledges the party is making.’

Michael Voges, ARCO executive director, said: ‘We welcome the focus of the Lib Dem manifesto on social care and on looking for a long-term solution to the funding challenges.

‘We would however encourage all parties to go further and to look at the key role that housing with care can play in supporting social care provision.

‘A brighter future for Britain must be one in which more older people can enjoy a better lifestyle in their retirement and have peace of mind that they can be as independent and well cared for as possible.’