Last reviewed 1 October 2019

The Labour Party conference this month heard Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell announce free personal care, including help with washing, dressing and meal preparation, for people in England aged over 65 years old who are most in need of it.

Based on an estimate from The King's Fund, the cost of delivering free personal care would be £6 billion a year in 2020 to 2021. Labour said this would be financed from general taxation.

Speaking at the annual conference in Brighton, John McDonnell said: “Nearly £8 billion has been taken from council budgets for social care since 2010. The result is one million people not getting the care they need. Some 87 people dying a day waiting for care.

"The next Labour government will introduce personal care free at the point of use in England. Funded not through the Conservatives' gimmicky insurance schemes but, like the NHS and our other essentials, through general taxation."

He announced that Labour would ensure the distinction between health and care needs is removed; free personal care would ensure people with dementia receive the same care as those with other conditions.

The party also promised to reduce the burden on unpaid carers and benefit the NHS by reducing delayed transfers of care from hospital, and admissions to care homes and hospitals. It promised to raise standards of care by ending the use of zero-hour contracts, ensuring that carers are paid a real living wage, including for travel time, end 15-minute care visits and improve access to training and development for care staff.

The King’s Fund Director of Policy Sally Warren said: "The case for reform is overwhelming and free personal care would be a good step. But free personal care is not the same thing as free social care, and some people would still be left facing catastrophic costs of care.

"Labour’s recognition of the importance of the social care workforce is welcome, but there is little detail in how those aspirations will be delivered and what it will cost. Reducing the historic divide between means-tested social care and largely free-at-the-point-of-use NHS services could benefit thousands of people."

The King’s Fund was not convinced Labour’s policy would solve the crisis in social care, saying it would like to see more detail before accepting this as the best use of the estimated £6 billion a year cost.

A main reservation is that it would only apply to older people aged 65 and over. Nothing would be available to younger adults whose care accounts for half of councils’ social care spending. The Nuffield Trust, has described this as a “missed opportunity”.

The Health Foundation also commented: “Reform to the social care system is badly needed. But the immediate priority for any government should be stabilising the existing system, including by meeting growing demand for care and boosting staff pay.”

The Labour party also announced it would get rid of Universal Credit, if it wins a general election, and made a pledge to end prescription charges in England.