POLICY EXCLUSIVE: If you want to influence UK parties’ social care policies, now is the time to engage

Former Conservative health minister Anne Milton
Former Conservative health minister Anne Milton

Anne Milton is a former Conservative government minister, and held roles covering health, skills and apprenticeships, and women and equalities. She is a now an adviser to social care specialist communications agency, PLMR Group.

As we head towards a likely 2024 general election, social care providers and representatives have the chance to ensure they use their voices to shape future policy decisions that will affect them. As the political parties turn their attention to their autumn conferences and, after that, their likely 2024 election manifestos, care providers can play a vital role guiding policy approaches on all sides.

Sustainability continues to be a key concern for the sector as it grapples with approximately 152,000 vacant posts, whilst 430,000 people wait for a care assessment according to the latest ADASS survey. Meanwhile, the ability of providers to attract and retain talent remains challenging, in part due to the absence of a national qualification or pay framework that is on par with that provided by the NHS. Although changes to Health and Care Visas have helped to boost the number of carers in the UK, this is by no means a long-term solution. Certainly, the policy has already been challenged by the ‘New Conservatives’ who want to slash visa allowances by 100,000 to help meet the Conservatives’ broader election pledges on immigration.

As such, now is the time for the sector to really champion the need to find solutions to the challenges facing the sector. The Institute for Government has criticised existing approaches to care policy, labelling it a ‘cycle of crisis-cash-repeat’, while the successive Conservative governments have twice legislated for reform only to cancel it prior to implementation. The Labour Party, meanwhile, had committed to developing an ambitious suite of alternative policies, and commissioned an excellent report by Fabian Society on a National Care Service – yet, has since had to row back on many commitments across all policies areas as they face up to the economic realities an incoming government will face.

Elsewhere, the Liberal Democrats’ successes in May’s local elections and June’s by-elections have put them on the map, particularly as a potential coalition ‘kingmaking’ partner. Their manifesto – and their leader, Sir Ed Davey’s lived experience of the social care system – mean their manifesto may have a real impact on steering the conversation.

Contrary to popular belief, these decisions and policy pledges are not made behind closed doors in Westminster but are formed by examining evidence and listening to constructive partners across the sector. As a former health minister, I know that close collaboration with sector partners is not only helpful to ministers but forms an important part of shaping policy making. These offers should be clear and well-evidenced – the more specific, the better – while such engagement can help providers to build important and ongoing relationships with policymakers.

From securing more sustainable funding to addressing the challenges around training and integration, the election presents an ideal opportunity for the sector to provide policymakers with a deeper understanding of the complexities of the issues facing social care providers – and those working for them – and why they should be prioritised by an incoming administration. This requires the sector to bring focus so they can clearly define their policy asks and consider what is achievable.

After 14 years in Parliament, I know all too well that the electorate – and MPs themselves – have become weary of policy commitments that have little chance of being realised, so it will be crucial to ensure your proposals have clear and realistic objectives. Given the funding pressures in the sector and wider economy, consider what objectives you can propose which do not rely on significant spending commitments, and seek to demonstrate the long-term cost savings impact of your suggestions. You may also wish to band together with other organisations in a coalition to drive forward impactful messages and proposals which address the universal pressures facing all parts of the health and care sector, and local authorities more generally.

Current polling is pointing to an overwhelming Labour majority, but we are still some way off an outright Starmer victory, and we cannot rule out some kind of informal coalition. With the election likely a year away, there is still time for Sunak to close the gap. Working with parties from across the spectrum will therefore be crucial to amplifying key messages and policy recommendations.

Beyond written proposals, you can seek to meet with each party’s health and social care specialists and representatives to demonstrate your understanding of key issues, party stances on them, and your proposals. By inviting these key players to meetings, and attending events and party conferences, MPs – and future ministers – will look on you and your organisation as genuinely constructive partners to help tackle future issues in the wider social care sector.

My final piece of advice is to maintain persistence and patience. Policy change does not happen overnight. Indeed, it often takes weeks, months, even years for a new policy to be agreed, developed and delivered.

Monitoring progress and investing in ongoing relationships will demonstrate your continued commitment to the issues you are raising, and your proactive approach to collaboration. The more cognisant you can make parliamentarians and ministers of challenges and opportunities in the sector, the more likely they are to act on them.

Join our mailing list

Stay up to date with all our events, awards and publications.

Information you provide us with will be kept private at all times, and will be used for communication and research purpose only.