Our reaction to the 2021 Queen's speech
The Queen delivered her 67th Queen’s Speech this week to officially reopen Parliament and outline the government’s priorities for the year ahead. Her address, and the briefing documents that followed, highlighted a total of 30 pieces of legislation that the government intends to pass over the coming year.
This Queen’s Speech was however a missed opportunity to respond to Covid-19’s extensive impact on the nation’s mental health and wellbeing. Specifically, it failed to address the shortcomings of the adult social care sector, which have been so severely exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic.
Parliamentarians will today (Wednesday 19th May) be discussing future plans for the NHS and social care, and we encourage them to pressure the government to rapidly provide further detail on their proposals for social care.
What had we wanted to see?
Managing the transition out of the pandemic and “building back better” continue to be the government’s stated priorities. These broad aims are important; however, this Queen’s Speech did not confirm crucial details of a reformed adult social care system that would provide the blueprint for a vital overhaul of the sector, and instead, kicked the can further down the road. Every delay means that more older and disabled people, families, and carers are being left to struggle.
Since Boris Johnson’s first speech as Prime Minister nearly two years ago, he has heralded the coming of a comprehensive plan to fix social care. Now was the time to finally see it.
What did we see?
The Queen began by saying the overall aim of the government was to “level up opportunities”, a message that was central to much of the speech. What followed were a series of Bills on issues such as extending 5G mobile coverage, the environment, and the planning system. More detail can be found here, and a summary here.
Reports suggest that discussions are ongoing within government about the potential cost of changes, which could run into the billions. In terms of detail revealed to the public, however, only nine words featured in the Queen's Speech - "Proposals for social care reform will be brought forward". The only hint at the government's long-promised vision for the future of social care in England. There was commitment from the government to introducing a specific bill to overhaul how the sector is funded, for example.
Rethink Mental Illness have been broadly supportive of the Mental Health Act Reforms White Paper, published by the government earlier this year. It is vital that the government now sets a public date for the new legislation to be introduced, and that appropriate funding is provided to ensure the new laws can be delivered.
How do we feel about it?
This is clearly another missed opportunity to properly engage with the massive challenges facing adult social care, and this is hugely disappointing. The pandemic has underlined the importance of the care system, which supports millions of people in their own homes and in care homes. Charities, campaigners, and politicians have been calling for action over social care in the UK, with pressure on funding and staff exposed even further during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the King's Fund, 1.9 million people made requests for social care in 2019 - including both older people and working-age adults with disabilities.
In the words of Martin Green, the Chief Executive of Care England “Without the much needed, not to mention heralded, reform it is questionable as to how much longer the sector can be expected to limp on.”
What do we want the government to do now?
Local authorities, who are responsible for the delivery of social care, are on their knees. A new strategy for care and a funding settlement cannot continue to wait.
Mental health social care plays a crucial role in supporting people living with severe mental illness to recover following hospital care, stay well, and prevent further crises. Without long-term funding, significant pressure will continue to be placed on expensive NHS emergency and inpatient services alongside continued missed government targets such as ending out of area placements, particularly in the midst of seeing increased needs due to the Covid-19 pandemic.