Two parliamentary committees have made history by being the first in the UK to ask a citizens’ assembly – a representative body of English citizens – to inform their work, and then throw their weight behind its bold recommendations.
Today’s social care report from the Health and Social Care, and Housing Communities and Local Government Committees closely mirrors the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care, calling among other things for a tax on over 40s to help pay for social care.
The report - which also echoes the Assembly’s aspirations for social care to be free at the point of use for both working age and older adults, be of higher quality, include better support for carers and use national earmarked contributions to help pay for the changes - calls for a cross-party parliamentary commission to urgently review a system which the Assembly concluded “clearly doesn’t work” and has “failed”.
Tim Hughes, Director of Involve, the charity that designed and ran the Assembly said:
The adult social care funding system has been in urgent need of reform for many years, but our political system has been unable to deal with it. The Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care developed clear and consistent recommendations, setting out a bold new funding arrangement for adult social care. We’re delighted the Committees have listened to the informed views of a representative section of the English population. We support their call for a cross-party parliamentary commission, informed by continued public engagement.
Clive Betts, chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee said:
If we are to ensure that the social care system of the future is sustainably funded and provides the high-quality care that people deserve, then any proposals must command not only a political consensus but also the support of the public. The views of those that took part in our Citizens’ Assembly have been vital in informing our thinking and the model also provides a possible route for further public engagement and building the support that any reforms will need.
Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of Health and Social Care Select Committee said:
It was extremely encouraging to see such a mix of different people - of different ages, backgrounds and from different parts of England – coming together to deliberate on these big issues so thoughtfully. The way the event was organised maximised participation and those attended clearly felt able to question, challenge and debate the issues freely.
The Citizens’ Assembly’s specific suggestions for funding social care included support for a separate compulsory social insurance payment for those over 40, the extension of National Insurance to be paid by people who work beyond state pension age and/or a general or earmarked increase to income tax. They diverged from the Committees in rejecting the use of local or inheritance taxation as part of the social care funding mix.
The success of the Assembly follows an upsurge in the use of citizens’ assemblies by governments and parliaments around the world, as they seek to better understand the public’s views in an age where politics has become increasingly fragmented and distrustful. Following hot on heels of the recent Irish Citizens’ Assembly whose recommendations for a change in abortion law led to the recent referendum, it sets a precedent for how UK parliaments and governments should engage the public in the future.