Give us a date for social care reform; why we need it – Mike Padgham

WILL they, won’t they? It has been a week of rumour and counter-rumour over the reform of social care. But, as I write this, it looks like we are once again going to be cheated out of action.

Mike Padgham (right) visits his 93-year-old mother Phyllis Padgham (centre) with Activities Assistant Charlotte Henderson (left) at St Cecilia's Nursing Home in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

Just as we thought the wait might finally be over and we were going to get reform, news began to filter through that – because the Prime Minister and Chancellor are now self-isolating – social care reform is to be shelved until the autumn.

If true, this is another huge disappointment for 1.5m people who cannot get the care they need and the care providers struggling to survive the pandemic.

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And what message does it send to the country? That the business of government has to stop because 
people are self-isolating? The rest 
of the country is having to function 
with the ‘pingdemic’, so why can’t 
they?

Mike Padgham is chair of the Independent Care Group and a leading social care campaigner.

It seems like another thin excuse to delay something so vital.

We cannot let this happen and have to hold the Government to account and force them into giving us a deadline by which reform must start.

It had been widely reported that the Government was set to announce a positive first step towards reforming the social care system, namely by setting a cap over which people’s care costs could not go. This was, if reports are to be believed, to be funded by an increase in National Insurance.

This would have been a step forward and an end to the impasse which, the Prime Minister himself admitted this week, has gone on for some 30 years.

Does the enforced self-isolation of Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak mean a delay to social care reform?

If, as Harold Wilson said, a week is a long time in politics, then 30 years is a heck of a long time in social care.

Successive governments of all 
political parties have promised bold reform but shied away at the final moment, terrified at the costs involved and the political implications of funding it.

Yes, there might be reservations. Is National Insurance the fairest way to fund it? NI is a regressive tax, costing those on lower incomes proportionately more than those who are better off. Surely income tax would have been a fairer way to fund it, or is that a step too far for the Conservatives?

Either way, it is better to make a start. And it has to be remembered, it will just be the start.

By starting to tackle the issue of huge care costs and the unfair system in which people have to sell their homes to fund care, the Government will just scratch the surface of the overhaul social care needs.

I have always believed that reform needs to be root and branch and it needs to take a look at the whole care system, not only one aspect.

It needs bold, fundamental action, beginning with a merger with NHS healthcare, so that we create a seamless, cradle to the grave care system the country can be proud of.

It needs dementia to be regarded like every other serious illness – like cancer and heart disease – and funded accordingly.

And it needs a proper pay and reward structure for staff so we can begin to tackle the 120,000 care vacancies we have at the moment. Speaking about staff, they have probably earned this reform more than anyone – the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated what a pivotal role social care plays in society’s care for our oldest and most vulnerable. The sector was in crisis after years of neglect and underfunding – £8bn cut from budgets since 2010 – and Covid-19 took an awful toll.

The Government concentrated on NHS services too much, at the expense of social care and care settings suffered terrible losses.

Now, as the pandemic finally shows some signs of abating, many care providers are facing a struggle to survive. They have faced enormous extra costs due to the pandemic and are finding that occupancy rates are just not recovering fast enough.

So reform cannot come quickly enough. Proper, bold action is needed urgently to save social care. And it could also markedly help the NHS, too.

The pandemic has shown that one cannot exist without the other. A properly-funded and managed social care system can ease the huge pressure on NHS services and save costs to it, too.

So as former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told BBC Newsnight this week: “You will never fix the problems in the NHS if you ignore the social care system.” Would it be impolite to ask why he didn’t reform the social care system when he held the secretary of state post?

But let’s stay positive and hope that this is just a temporary delay and we will go full steam ahead in the autumn, with a deadline for when reform will be delivered.

We have had too many false dawns, too many broken promises before. Social care’s time is now or, as the Government sees it, three months from now…

Mike Padgham is chair of the Independent Care Group and a leading social care campaigner.

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