The Liz Truss era is underway - what could it mean for social care?

As widely predicted, Liz Truss was confirmed as the winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest. Accordingly, she became the new UK Prime Minister on Tuesday, 6th September 2022.

Ms Truss' new inbox in 10 Downing Street is overflowing with issues requiring her urgent attention. But where does social care sit in her list of priorities, and what support might the sector expect to see in the coming months? Read on to find out.

7a9f7c_e9e4cd85344c4dcabc96ad2453d22e7e_mv2

What can social care expect from Liz Truss over the first 100 days?

So far, our new PM has given just a short victory address and appointed her first cabinet. So there isn't much to go on regarding specific, targeted action for the social care sector.

However, the following are either already confirmed or highly likely to happen this side of Christmas.

A new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Thérèse Coffey is a close friend of the Prime Minister and one of several appointments that put Ms Truss' political allies in key cabinet positions.

Ms Coffey is now an experienced minister - she was in Boris Johnson's cabinet, serving as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

But she is a relatively unknown quantity in health and social care. She has never held any professional or political positions relevant to the sector she is now responsible for.

According to a parliamentary colleague quoted in The Guardian, her department's effectiveness and performance could hinge on which ministers remain or join her.

At the very least, health and social stakeholders will be hoping for stable leadership - Ms Coffey is the third Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in just two months!

Action on energy prices

Ms Truss and her new Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, moved quickly to provide financial support to freeze energy costs.

Domestic energy bills are set to be capped at £2,500 a year for the next two years thanks to up to £150bn of state subsidies, mostly funded by borrowing more money.

At the time of publishing, they are also looking at business-specific support (this blog will update when this is announced). Like all other businesses, care homes are not protected by the domestic price cap. Many are at risk of closure due to soaring energy bills.

Mr Johnson's resignation and subsequent leadership election left a policy black hole and uncertainty for businesses. The new look government knew they needed to reassure the business community and take swift action to prevent companies from collapsing.

Tackling the cost of living crisis

Rising energy costs don't just have a direct impact on household budgets; they push up the prices of many other necessities, from food to transport costs. This is why energy policy is top of her to-do list.

In her first statement in Downing Street, she acknowledged that "we need to reduce the burden on families and help people get on in life." So it's highly likely that she will explore other ways to support those struggling with the cost of living, including those working in social care.

Cutting taxes was a core part of her pitch to her party during the leadership election. Potential measures might include:

  • Reversing the recent 1.25% increase in national insurance

  • Cancelling a scheduled rise in corporation tax

  • Cutting VAT by 5%

  • Lowering income tax

The care sector will hope that this two-pronged approach - putting more money back into people's pockets while also reducing their outgoings - will ease some of the financial pressure on their staff. According to a new survey, 33% of workers have considered applying for a new job due to the rising cost of living.

7a9f7c_7dc425fa9762412f8791ec297cd76ff9_mv2

Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

What don't we know yet?

A lot! It's still early for Ms Truss and her new(ish) cabinet. We're still waiting for many other government positions to be confirmed or filled. We have yet to hear in detail from Ms Coffey about her plans for her new department, and lots of questions remain, including:

Extra funding

During leadership election hustings, Ms Truss said she would spend £13bn earmarked for the NHS on social care instead:

I would spend that money in social care. Quite a lot has gone to the NHS. I would give it to local authorities. We have people in beds in the NHS who would be better off in social care. So put that money into social care.

That £13bn was supposed to come from the NI hike she plans to reverse, so there are questions about whether the money can be found elsewhere, especially with a very costly energy policy in the works.

Her comments also led to criticism from those that feel the NHS needs to be the priority. However, if she makes good on her promise, that will be a welcome sign that there might be some focus shifted away from the NHS and towards social care.

How will the government respond to stakeholder concerns?

Care England has called for immediate help for the sector, including a 'per-bed' energy price cap, zero-rating VAT and committing to a long-term workforce strategy for adult social care. Will the new regime adopt any of their suggestions?

In July, the Parliamentary Health and Social Care Committee set out 73 conclusions and recommendations in their report on recruitment, training and retention in health and social care. How will the government respond?

The Homecare Association has similar concerns about workforce planning. They are also asking for an emergency grant to help care workers with the cost of petrol and support to accelerate digital transformation.

We're likely to learn much more over the coming days and weeks. Undoubtedly, the future of social care in the Liz Truss era will be a hot topic at the Care Show in October. We'll be there, so stay tuned for our end-of-show wrap-up.