EARLIER this week I said goodbye to a very special lady. My friend Betty has died at the age of 92. Her funeral was on Monday afternoon and the chaplain spoke movingly of the person she was.
He reminded Betty’s family and friends of her quiet, but abiding religious faith – and her love of football. He spoke of her many other interests; gardening, caravanning on the Yorkshire coast, her dedication to the roles of wife, mother, aunt and surrogate granny to many.
She touched briefly on her life as a young woman, one of the first in Barnsley to pass secretarial exams at the new commercial college in 1940s, and her lifelong work in public service.
And he also acknowledged the debt of gratitude Betty’s family owed to her team of home carers and to the staff and volunteers of the charity Age Concern, which provided her with the lifeline of regular day care sessions.
Betty was one of the lucky ones. She managed to live alone in her own home until the end of her very long life, when she was admitted to hospital and passed away on Easter Sunday.
Her son oversaw arrangements, but Betty herself had played no small part in putting in place a framework of care when her late husband, Cliff, was ill. She personally lobbied their local councillor to ensure that they got what they needed, including a stairlift in their living room. She had the confidence to do this because she had spent her working life in local government and the NHS.
What of the elderly people without such a voice? If nothing else is certain this year, what has become abundantly clear is that the long-promised publication of the Green Paper on adult social care which could help them is not going to happen any time soon.
And until this comes to pass, the issue cannot be taken into consideration in any Spending Review. It’s a pretty vital document then. You could say that its stalled delivery has turned into a farce, but it’s not remotely funny.
Believe it or not, it was supposed to be published in the summer of 2017. That’s two years ago. Since then, deadline after deadline has been missed.
Before Christmas, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, confidently tweeted that he was just putting ‘‘the finishing touches’’ to the paper, but it never appeared.
Then he went and set himself another deadline, of April 1, and missed it again. The fool. There’s still no sign. All the Department of Health and Social Care will say is that it expects the paper in ‘‘due course’’, which is the answer most government departments give to most enquiries these days, believe me.
Blame Brexit of course, and the tricky parliamentary majority Prime Minister Theresa May clings on to. However, above all, a government exists to ensure that a country is run effectively. Its first duty of care is to us. And in failing to set the wheels in motion for an adult social care system, it stands guilty of a serious dereliction of duty.
Official figures suggest that services will face a funding gap of £3.6bn by 2025. This level of funding would only just about keep the sector running at current levels, without even addressing improving the current model of provision or including funding required to meet the needs of the growing numbers of older people.
Not only do we need radical ideas, but it is frankly irresponsible for a senior Cabinet minister to keep shelving the matter, presumably in the hope that no-one will take him to task.
Earlier this year, 15 health organisations actually did do that, in a strongly-worded plea to the Prime Minister. To no avail. At the time, some commentators questioned why health has become involved in a problem which technically belongs to social care.
However, I’d argue that these bodies were right to raise their concerns. How we look after our elderly and vulnerable has a knock-on effect on many other aspects of society; without proper support in the home, for instance, frail individuals are more likely to suffer accidents and falls and require emergency services, which in turn puts pressure on ambulance crews and A&E departments.
What the chaplain didn’t say was that Betty was also a stalwart Labour supporter, and for many years served the party in various administrative roles. However, towards the end of her life, she found reading the newspapers difficult and the machinations of modern politics even harder to comprehend.
But I know for sure that she would not have been happy about leaving a world in which politicians cared more about their own ambitions and follies than serving the people who elected them to office. It would have bothered her deeply that Matt Hancock and his department are not being held weekly to account in Westminster until they delivered what has been promised.
For Betty’s sake, and for the millions like her – who don’t ever want to be a burden – it is about time the challenge of how we must care for those who need it rose to the top of the agenda.