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Autumn update – Party conference season

Autumn update – Party conference season

Following a Summer of political uncertainty, Autumn has been no exception. The new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has lost every vote in Parliament so far, and was told by the Supreme Court that his decision to ‘prorogue’ Parliament for five weeks was unlawful.

Amidst these tumultuous political events, the Parties held their annual conferences, setting out policies on key issues, ahead of an approaching General Election. In this blog, LLA will help our members to navigate the complexities of this year’s party conference season, and explain how announcements could affect you.

At Labour Party Conference in Brighton, Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell proclaimed that a Labour Government would ensure that personal social care is free at the point of use. This means services such as assistance with bathing, going to the toilet and getting dressed would be free for everyone, operating in a similar way to the NHS. This would be funded through new taxation with the view to eventually developing a national care body. McDonnell also pledged that domiciliary care and care homes will be brought under public control and ownership.

Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth unfortunately did not focus on adult social care, though he did say that a Labour Government would abolish all prescription charges, which remain “a tax on illness”. He also said that staff are taken for granted within the NHS and so Labour “will guarantee fair pay, increase training and professional development budgets”. He pledged that Labour would legislate for bringing back a bursary to train 24,000 more nurses and midwives and expand GP training places to 5,000 a year, leading to 27 million more appointments.

In Manchester, the Conservative Party Conference similarly featured little on social care. Despite Boris Johnson proclaiming on the steps of Downing Street he would “fix the crisis in social care”, the majority of announcements did not focus on investing in the sector.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock announced a new Health Infrastructure Plan, which he described as the biggest hospital building program in a generation. The plan outlines building 40 new hospitals and will amount to £13 billion in investment over the next decade. Disappointingly though, he made no mention of social care in his conference speech, but this is possibly because investment had already been announced in the Spending Round in September. Chancellor, Sajid Javid stated that Councils will have access to £1.5 billion of new funding for social care. This is the largest increase in local government spending power since 2010, on top of the existing £2.5 billion of social care grants.

The Conservatives outlined more detailed proposals on pensions legislation, with the Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, Guy Opperman, revealing that the upcoming Pensions Bill is “good to go”. This Bill was announced during the Queen’s speech and broadly covers three areas; collective defined contribution schemes, putting the Defined Benefit White Paper into statute law, and new rules on the long-awaited pensions dashboards. Additionally, Work and Pensions Secretary, Thérèse Coffey pledged that the Conservatives will increase powers to send “reckless” business owners to jail if they risk their members’ pensions.

Notably, neither Labour nor the Conservatives mentioned protecting TV licence concessions for those over 75. Later Life Ambitions will continue fighting for this key entitlement which combats the loneliness felt by many older people.

Overall, conference season showed that the main political parties are aware of the issues affecting older people and are keen to resolve them. However Later Life Ambitions will only be satisfied when policy announcements are put into action. The crisis in social care affects older people every day and will not be resolved by rhetoric alone. We welcome Labour’s proposals for social care reform and hope that the Conservative Party make similar pledges, or at least ring-fence new funding for local authorities exclusively for social care. As politics continues its volatility, Later Life Ambitions will continue to fight to protect the rights of older people, and to ensure fulfilling and dignified later lives for all.