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Conservative Party Conference: What happened, and what does it mean for social work?

Kerri Prince, BASW UK Public and Political Affairs Lead, provides members with an overview of the recent Conservative Party Conference

A stark contrast to the Labour Party conference that took place a week ago, the Conservative Party conference is not a place for rule changes, debates or motions. Instead, members of the party, the press, and lobbying organisations attend to hear speeches from key ministers, attend fringe events on a range of subjects, and network.

A policy announcement at the conference of the party in Government is much more relevant and newsworthy than a policy announcement by the opposition, because the UK Government can implement policies immediately. An opposition party would first need to win an election before they could implement their policies.

So what were the highlights? 

  • Sajid Javid said that social care should start with family, and the state should only step in if family or community cannot.
  • Javid has asked retired General, Sir Gordon Messenger, to lead a review of leadership and management in health and social care.
  • The UK Government wants to close the life expectancy gap (regional, racial, socioeconomic) 
  • 2022 will be a year of ‘renewal and reform’ in health and social care

Sajid Javid gave his first conference speech since becoming Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. He took the opportunity to thank workers on the frontline in health and social care. He outlined his priorities as being: Covid; recovery; and reform. This means responding to the pandemic, tackling the huge backlog of appointments it has caused, and reform of our health and social care systems for the long-term.

Seeing as we already have the Health and Care Bill going through parliament, and the announcement of the health and social care levy, you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that health and social care reform will require more than haphazard pieces of legislation that may not work with reform that’ll come down the line in the immediate future. Does the UK Government have a plan, or is it just making adjustments here and there?

The Secretary of State also made his position clear that social care should start with family, and then community, and the state only if family and community cannot provide social care. Commentary around this has speculated that this will simply result in a bigger burden of responsibility set on women, who are often the ones that take on caring responsibilities. This announcement looks to me like a government trying to shift the responsibility of social care onto families who may already be overstretched with responsibilities.

It was also announced that retired General, Sir Gordon Messenger, will lead a review of leadership and management in health and social care. The full scope of this is yet to be clarified. 

He also announced that the Government want to close the life expectancy gap as in some parts of the country, life expectancy is 20 years less than in wealthier parts. This announcement comes the week that the Government are cutting £20 per week from the incomes of the poorest in our society, and poverty is a key driver of life expectancy. 

While announcements about tackling issues such as waiting lists and health inequality are positive on the face of it, there is no further mention about the cash injection that would be needed to deliver this.

The Prime Minister’s Speech

No matter which party is having its conference, the Leader’s Speech is seen as the key event. Boris Johnson spoke for 45 minutes about COVID, that the Government were going to ‘get things done’, but little explanation about specific policies they were going to introduce to achieve getting things done.

What was probably more telling is what was not in his speech. On the day that Universal Credit was cut by £20 per week, the Prime Minister made no mention of those who would be affected by the cut and the hardship that they will now face. He made no mention of the fuel crisis that is still impacting some parts of the country. He made no mention of food and other supply concerns. Instead, the focus was very much on the slogan without as yet any content of ‘levelling-up’, and why levelling-up was important. If you like a good political insult, there were plenty of them in Boris’ speech, but perhaps these are where policy announcements would have been welcome.

Conservative Party conference finished and I was none the wiser on how the Government were going to fix the many challenges facing the country. So like everyone else, we can do nothing but sit and wait for the next Government announcement, whenever that comes…

Violence against women

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel MP, in her speech spoke about violence against women, and announced that she was redoubling her efforts to ensure women and girls feel safer. She also said that later this year she will launch the first ever standalone Domestic Abuse Strategy. There are incredibly important policy announcements, but there will be concerns that these measures do not go far enough to address the misogyny that is so deeply rooted in society. These announcements were somewhat in the shadow of the Secretary of State for Justice and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab mistakenly saying on the news that ‘misogyny is wrong whether it’s against a woman or against a man’

An early General Election?

Rumours of an early General Election have been swirling, and if Labour start to do better in the polls, Boris Johnson may well opt for an early General Election to secure another 5 years sooner rather than later. 

Conservatives at conference were whispering about Spring 2023, but the Government may prefer to go for another Winter election. Worth remembering that the Government are repealing the Fixed Term Parliament Act, and why do this if not to call an early election?