Robert Morritt is Head of Public Affairs at the housing and care provider Home Group and sits on the Board of the Care & Support Alliance.
The Conservative Party’s handling of social care at the last election might be something people want to forget. Election campaigns are the worst time to make up and then trumpet poorly thought through policies. But the drivers behind the proposals – that quickly became known as the ‘dementia tax’ – won’t go away. If this Parliament is going to go the full five years then the crisis in care will only get worse without urgent action. The status quo is not delivering the care people need.
Despite the media focus, social care’s contribution to our society goes way beyond keeping older people out of hospital, important though that is; in fact, it would not be an exaggeration to describe social care as ‘life support’. Ensuring that there is sufficient care in place is also about supporting the UK’s 6.5 million unpaid carers – family members or friends, some of whom have to give up work or take time off and juggle their work commitments to support their loved one. This does absolutely nothing to help our already very poor levels of productivity.
Social care needs to work for everyone – older people, disabled people, and their carers. Well in excess of a million older people and disabled people are being denied the basic care they need to get on with their lives, such as help with getting out of bed, washing, and taking an active part in their local community.
Traditionally, social care like health has probably been seen as more of a Labour issue than a Conservative one. At its heart this ought to be something that the Conservative Party can engage with passionately. Many of the issues are familiar – centring on a lack of choice, responsibility and the best way to provide those services in what is a very mixed economy with both public and private providers.
Yet, over the last seven years, Conservative Ministers have sought to kick the can down the road. An extra billion here or there and then the two per cent precept on Council Tax. Each decision in itself sensible and welcomed but equally betraying a lack of a long term vision for how we deal with an aging society. Total cumulative savings by over stretched local authorities in adult social care since 2010 will amount to over £6.3bn by the end of March 2018. Levels of spending shouldn’t be the sole metric on which we judge the health of the system but when combined with a population shift they demonstrate how short sighted the approach to date has been. Local government reductions are simply replaced by expensive central government sticking plasters.
It would be wrong to shy away from what is a very bleak picture. In a recent survey of care professionals supported by the Care and Support Alliance, more than four in five respondents (83 per cent) did not think there was enough variety and quality of social care provision in their area for people to exercise genuine choice and control over the care they received. Half of respondents (51 per cent) said their local authority imposed exclusions on what people could spend their personal budget or direct payment on to meet their eligible needs. This means that at the very least, the spirit of the Care Act 2014 was not being abided with so far as the older and disabled people affected were concerned.
Successive governments have failed to tackle head on the challenges of creating a sustainable care system. Disabled people, older people, and their families are being denied care as a result. This issue can no longer be kicked into the long grass. Though all the indications, as Isabel Hardman at The Spectator suggests, are that the party intends to do little.
There have been numerous commissions and reviews undertaken over many years. The consequences of not fixing the problem now would be dire for individuals and the ultimately the taxpayer – including continued pressure on the NHS and too many disabled people and carers falling out of the job market too early. We acknowledge this is not an easy task but it’s as vital to our future as almost any other bar Brexit.