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Lib Dems hailed for putting NHS and social care at 'heart' of election with 'welcome' manifesto

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

Ed Davy at the Lib Dem campaign launch. Credit: screengrab Sky News.

The Liberal Democrats would fund a £9.4bn policy package for social care and the NHS by increasing taxes on banks and tightening capital gains rules for the ultra-wealthy.

These policies – unveiled in the party’s election manifesto today (10 June) – have been hailed by campaigners as a “welcome” change from the “inhumanity” of the current system.

Free personal care for older and disabled people, investments in public health infrastructure and a higher care worker’s minimum wage are among the new proposals.

If implemented, they would have a “huge impact” on the lives of millions of Brits, said Dan White, policy and campaigns officer at Disability Rights UK.

“This is a welcome acknowledgement of the nation’s unpaid carers,” he said.

“Many disabled people, not all, but many, rely on the time and dedication of carers. Policies that will better their financial and mental wellbeing are very welcome.”

Health and care are the “issues that people care about and that desperately need solutions”, said Chris Thomas, head of Institute for Public Policy Research’s cross-party Commission on Health and Prosperity.

“Britain goes into this election with NHS waiting lists over seven million, nearly three million people out of work due to sickness and nearly half a million people stuck in a care backlog,” he said. “Doing better is a social and economic imperative – on which the commitment to free personal care, long argued for by IPPR, will be particularly important.”

What are the Liberal Democrats pledging on health and social care?

For much of the campaign so far, Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey has attracted news attention for his light-hearted exploits – from falling off a paddleboard to leaping down a slip-and-slide.

But the party’s manifesto – which pledges to put NHS and social care at the ‘heart’ of the election – brings the attention back onto policy.

Social care is a “deeply personal” issue for Davy, who is a carer for his disabled son. As a teenager, he also looked after his mother while she was dying from cancer.

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

“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 party’s plans earmark an extra £2.7bn a year for spending on social care – a spend they claim would be fully funded by “reversing tax cuts handed by the Conservative Party to the big banks since 2016”.

In addition to pledging free personal care at home for elderly and disabled people, Davey also promised to raise care worker’s pay to at least £2 above the minimum wage.

The Carer’s Allowance – the stipend available to people who look after someone with an illness or disability for at least 35 hours a week – would also increase under Liberal Democrat rule, rising by £20 a week to a little over £100. The eligibility threshold for the allowance would increase, too, including all those earning less than £183 a week.

It’s “high time” that the allowance was increased, said Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK.

“People who provide care to a loved one for free deserve not only our grateful thanks, but more support of all kinds, including financially, to protect them from falling into the poverty that many carers currently endure.”

Abrahams said it was “really encouraging” to see a party bring forward “positive thinking about social care”. However, she added that the free personal care pledge does not go far enough.

“Free personal care sounds great, but it’s important to recognise that not all the care that everyone needs is ‘personal’, and that if you are in a care home then your bills will include a sizeable amount for bed and board – in other words that ‘free personal care’ isn’t the same as ‘free care’, and won’t apply to everyone who needs social care,” she said.

White had similar reservations about the policy. He called for the Carer’s Allowance to be increased more than the Liberal Democrats have suggested.

“There’s plenty more that needs to be done. The allowance needs to be at least on par with minimum wage – many carers don’t down tools after the 35 hours specified by the allowance, it’s full time,” he said.

Other suggestions are included in Disability Rights UK’s Disabled People’s Manifesto.

The current system is in need of urgent reform, said Sarah White, head of policy at the national disability charity Sense.

“Adult social care is in crisis. People with complex disabilities are paying a heart-breaking price due to chronic underfunding, with local authorities slashing support and providers struggling to find the care workers they need,” she said.

One in five people with complex disabilities in the UK who are receiving social care feel they don’t have the right support to meet their needs, Sense research shows. A quarter had their care provision cut in the past year – and 15% had their care withdrawn altogether.

What do the Lib Dems say about health in their manifesto?

The Lib Dems have earmarked £1bn a year for capital investment in hospitals, equipment and other health infrastructure.

To boost cancer survival rates, the party would guarantee all patients can start treatment within 62 days of an urgent referral. They would also guarantee access to an NHS dentist for everyone needing urgent and emergency care, and introduce the right to see a GP within seven days.

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Tightening capital gains tax rules could generate an extra £5 billion out of the wealthiest 0.1% in the country, the party claims – paying for their ambitious health plans.

The focus on the NHS is welcome, the IPPR’s Chris Thomas said – but the UK needs a broader plan to tackle the causes of ill-health.

“All parties must swiftly realise the NHS, inherently a reactive sickness service, cannot deliver good health on its own,” he said.

“Our health and prosperity demands a plan to tackle the root causes of sickness – mouldy housing, toxic air, obesity, bad work and debt – targeted at places where health and economic inequality coincide.”

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