Providing the care and support we all need to maintain our independence, dignity and ability to enjoy later life is what we expect from any just society. However, a lack of investment over many decades has led to a complex social care system that leaves too many older people unable to access the support they need, while others bear huge financial burdens. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the challenges that people relying on the social care system face, resulting in increased pressure on the government to fulfill the prime minister’s promise in his first speech outside Downing Street to bring forward real reform.

The concept of free personal care has been widely discussed within the social care reform debate in England. However, while the theory may well be established, the practicalities of delivering the policy and the challenges that come along with it are less clear. It has been more than two decades since the Royal Commission on Long Term Care recommended that the UK government introduce free personal care for all people aged 65 and over. During that time, while England’s social care system has continued to struggle and lurch from one crisis to another, Scotland has not only made personal care free at the point of use for all older people, but also extended it to include those of working age.

This briefing seeks to build on existing information on free personal care by providing an insight into the experiences of some of those involved in, and receiving, social care north of the border. We hope these reflections on the Scottish experience prove useful as the government considers undertaking bold reform in England that similarly includes the principle of free at the point of use.