Chris Chapman is a councillor in Tower Hamlets and contested Ilford South at the 2015 and 2017 General Elections.
My mum has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, she is 58 years of age. I know that as I stood on stage in the early hours of Friday morning last week awaiting the result of my count, she did not know where I was or that I had stood in the general election. I take comfort in knowing that in 2015, when I was honoured to have Sir John Major speak at my campaign fundraiser, she was very proud of me despite the ravages of the disease clearly beginning to manifest themselves.
What no one tells you about dementia, is that you’re left in an agonising limbo unable to grieve for your loved one but painfully aware that they’re not really there anymore. You see little glimpses of them when they remember a past event or an old friend, but this provides little comfort, your loved one, my mum, is disappearing.
When the Prime Minister announced the proposed changes to adult social care during our manifesto launch, I was glad to see that as a party we were going to tackle this challenge head on, to try and bring some security and certainty to the families of those who suffer the awful effects of dementia. As I headed out onto the doorstep that evening it was apparent that something catastrophic was about to occur. Before the rather crude and I would argue cruel label of the ‘Dementia Tax’ had even taken hold, voters were asking me to explain how it was fair or just that we were going to take someone’s home to pay for their care?
Struck and alarmed by how the policy was being interpreted, I explained on doorstep after doorstep that we were increasing the amount that could be left to loved one by four times the current amount and that it would therefore now equate to £100,000 for those requiring in home care. However the increase did not allay their fears, rather it brought the entire issue into sharp focus. Many were not aware of the existing arrangements and suddenly feared that the money they had planned to leave to their families was in jeopardy should they themselves fall ill.
We had brought an issue that requires serious government attention and action to the front of the public’s mind, however we had done so at the very worst moment possible. Without clarity on the cap for the total cost of care, announced by the Prime Minister in the days following the manifesto launch, we were immediately on the defensive having to justify what many saw as a deep injustice. The fact that we were trying to dramatically improve the current state of affairs seemed to be a minor footnote to many I spoke to and we would go on to pay a heavy price at the ballot box.
With the election now behind us, what is clear is the scale of the challenge that confronts of us. With projections of over 2 million additional people living in Britain over the age of 75 in the next decade alone, the issue of adequately funding adult social care and ensuring that an effective delivery framework exists is of paramount concern. Serious long term illness impacts many age groups as I am only too painfully aware, but it hits the over 75s the hardest and with an ever growing elderly population there are no easy fixes to providing the necessary level of care.
The way in which some groups and individuals derided our efforts to take the first step in tackling adult social care during the election campaign was shameful. Many seised on the issue for quick and cheap political gain, the ability to paint us as uncaring and callous being all too tempting. Whilst I appreciate that is the very nature of political campaigns, as the dust settles I now urge politicians on all sides to come together on this issue and seek workable, fair solutions.
We need to see more funding for research to tackle the root causes of the illnesses that leave people requiring long term adult social care. David Cameron embraced this cause with initiatives like the Dementia Challenge in 2012, designed to drive major improvements in care and research. We need to have an open and honest dialogue with the public about planning for the possibility of requiring adult social care and to dismiss some of the alarmist rhetoric that has been allowed to take hold over the past few months.
The idea of a Royal Commission has been mentioned by many and I would argue that going down this route is not ducking a difficult political issue but rather an acknowledgment of the sheer scale and complexity of the challenge we face. Clearly there is no single answer but for the sake of those who suffer and will suffer with long term illness, for my mum’s sake, we owe it to them to move past the politics and to put their wellbeing first.