With the coronavirus pandemic having shed light on how social care operates in the UK, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies polled the British public in order to better understand attitudes towards social care, particularly regarding the question of whether the public thinks it should be revamped to become free at the point of use.
Our research finds that a clear plurality of Britons (47%) think social care in the UK should be free at the point of use like the NHS, regardless of whether or not individuals contributed to it through tax payments during their working lives. On the other hand, 32% think social care should be funded like a pension, with only those who paid into it during their working lives being able to access it later in life. Finally, a small minority of 7% think it should be funded completely privately by individuals using their own savings.
Looking at how attitudes towards social care funding mechanisms in the UK have evolved during the past year, we observe minor changes: In July 2020, half (50%) of the British public thought social care should be free at the point of use, but this proportion had dropped to 42% in March 2021. Our latest data thus sees support for social care that is free at the point of use return to levels closer to those we observed during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, support for funding social care like a pension remains slightly lower now than it was in both July 2020 (36%) and March 2021 (33%).
However, among those who think social care in the UK should be free at the point of use like the NHS, only 53% would be willing to pay more in taxes in order to fund such a system, with the majority of them willing to pay between 1% and 5% more in taxes. Meanwhile, 19% of those who want social care to be free at the point of use think this should be funded by higher taxes on people wealthier than themselves, and 20% think it should be funded by the Government redirecting spending from other areas. Overall, only 25% of the sample as a whole want social care to be free at the point of use (like the NHS) and are willing to pay more in taxes in order to fund this.
Thinking about their own future old age, the British public is rather divided in terms of whether they are confident their loved ones will look after them. Whereas 25% say they are confident and 28% say they are somewhat confident that there will be people close to them who will be able to take care of them when they are older (adding up to 53% who have some degree of confidence), a further 26% are not at all confident that their loved ones will look after them in old age. Interestingly, those who have no confidence that their loved ones will look after them are no more likely than the overall sample to say that social care in the UK should be free at the point of use.
Mirroring the above results where 26% are not at all confident that their loved ones will look after them in old age, our research also finds that only 19% of British adults think it likely that they will live in a care home at some point in their life. This marks a small decrease from July 2020, when 23% of respondents thought it likely they would live in a care home at some point in their life and from March 2021, when 22% of respondents thought so.
Meanwhile, 36% feel confident in affirming they consider it unlikely, and a prudent 44% answer that they don’t know whether this is likely or not. Interestingly, younger respondents are somewhat more likely to say it is likely they will live in a care home when they are old than middle aged or older respondents. Although this could be a reflection of how they feel about their future prospects in life, it could also be indicative of older people having more certainty about their retirement plans and thus feeling more confident to affirm that they will likely not live in a care home.
Overall, our findings show that roughly half the British public would support the creation of something akin to a ‘National Care Service,’ but only around 25% of the sample as a whole would both support this change and be willing to pay more in taxes in order to fund it. With more than half of Britons saying they are at least somewhat confident that their loved ones will help look after them in their old age, it does not appear particularly likely that a social care system that is free at the point of use will be a top priority for a majority of British voters—particularly if it comes with a hefty tax price tag.