WE have all seen this week the very moving and poignant tributes to those who sacrificed so much at D-Day, a reminder of the great debt we owe previous generations. We have seen war veterans remembering their fallen comrades with courage and dignity.
How shocking it was to then witness the way we are now looking after some of that same generation, and others, in the BBC Panorama expose on social care. The comparison could not have been more stark, nor more shameful.
We are now in the midst of a leadership election for the Conservative Party and whoever emerges victorious will be our next Prime Minister. You would be forgiven for thinking there was just one topic – Brexit.
Of course, this is important but there are many other issues which need to be looked at too – not least the ever-worsening plight of social care which, to me, is now the number one domestic priority. And so, today, I pose the following questions to the candidates:
* How do you intend to ensure that adult social care has adequate funding to deliver a service that older and vulnerable adults deserve?
* Given that there are more than 100,000 vacancies, and the Government plans to make it harder to recruit workers from overseas, how will you tackle this staffing shortage?
* How best can we integrate NHS healthcare and adult social care so services complement one another and provide seamless care?
* How will you address the treatment of people with dementia to ensure they are treated fairly and in the same way as those with illnesses like cancer and heart disease?
* What are you going to do to address the current shortage of nurses and GPs?
* How can we reform the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to ensure it provides the best service to both protect users and support care providers?
* How do you intend to advance this newspaper’s award-winning loneliness campaign to help combat social isolation?
* Where was your response when I wrote to all 650 MPs on the crisis in adult social care last November?
For those who did not see them, the Panorama programmes exposed the reality of social care in 2019, highlighting examples from the 1.4 million people who aren’t getting the care they need. It showed local authorities unable to cope because of spending cuts, a point supported by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which reports that spending on adult social care fell by five per cent in real terms between 2009-10 and 2017-18.
People are talking about social care but sadly, as has been the case now for many years, that is all they are doing. And, in the most part, they are saying the same old things we have been hearing for a decade or more – something needs to be done!
We had hoped that the long-overdue Green Paper might finally provide us with a way forward, but Care Minister Caroline Dinenage is now reducing expectations by saying that it is not a “silver bullet”.
The leadership candidates should be viewing this as a big opportunity to speak to the country about issues other than Brexit. Those 1.4 million people, and many, many thousands more who fear for their future, are looking for hope – and leadership – on the care of older and vulnerable adults, which, let’s face it, will be all of us one day, including politicians.
This is a big opportunity to be bold, to tread where politician after politician has feared to go before and to resolve the issues that have dogged previous governments.
All of the leadership candidates would do well to visit social care on the front line to see the crisis for themselves. I would make each and every one of them most welcome here in Yorkshire.
None of the Conservative leadership candidates replied to me when I wrote to all 650 MPs on the crisis in social care and two in particular – Matt Hancock, who is currently Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and Jeremy Hunt who was a long-serving Health Secretary – haven’t tackled it when in the most relevant post.
For me, I would like to see any future Prime Minister promise to properly fund adult social care – even if this means we have to increase taxation or National Insurance. We deserve excellent care and we will need to pay for it.
We need to see greater integration with NHS care so that care is seamless and not disjointed, as it is at the moment. Properly-funded social care saves the NHS money because it keeps people out of costly NHS beds by looking after them in their own home or a care or nursing home.
We need to recognise dementia as an illness, so that people with it are looked after in the same way that people with cancer or heart disease are cared for and not left to fend for themselves.
And we need to protect the social care workforce. We are going to need more and more carers to look after an ageing population and we need to make sure that the supply is going to be there after Brexit.
If politicians aren’t persuaded by the human argument (and they should be), there is also a strong economic case for better supporting social care. The sector contributes £46.2bn to the economy and employs 1.5 million people (that’s more than the 1.3 million employed in the NHS). Conversely, if it is allowed to deteriorate further, more people will have to leave work to look after loved ones and that will hurt the economy.
When the Government needs to tackle an emergency, they call a meeting of COBRA. I would say that this, too, is a national emergency. For, if I was rating the Government’s performance on this issue, I would have to say it was ‘inadequate’ and recommend closing it down. We deserve better. And, to quote Winston Churchill in the week of D-Day, action this day.
* Mike Padgham is chair of the Independent Care Group based in Scarborough and a national campaigner on social care.