Matt Hancock’s social care hypocrisy is now a badge of shame – Tom Richmond

IF there was an honour for gesture politics, the preening Matt Hancock and his badge of shame would be the runaway winner of the sanctimony stakes.

Matt Hancock sported this 'Care' badge when he answered an Urgent Question in Parliament on Tuesday.

When called to Parliament on Tuesday to answer an urgent question on care home deaths, he sported a green lapel badge displaying the word ‘Care’.

If only it could be certain that the Health and Social Secretary did ‘care’ sufficiently about this aspect of his brief.

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Normally Mr Hancock wears a NHS pin badge when he makes public appearances – a gesture introduced by his predecessor Jeremy Hunt.

Spot the difference - Matt Hancock usually sports this NHS badge at Downing Street press conferences.

But previous policy neglect of social care is catching up with him – each new death in this sector is another blow to his tarnished credibility after initial Government guidance suggested that it was “very unlikely” that care home residents “will become infected”.

And then there was his rank hypocrisy at a recent 10 Downing Street briefing when he spoke about the importance of social care to the NHS and vice-versa.

“There is so much more to do. This crisis has also demonstrated the imperative for reform,” he declared. That’s something. It clearly escaped him that this has been his job since July 2018.

“It has shown the importance of longstanding calls for closer working between health and social care. It’s acted as a catalyst for integration and shown the benefits on the ground.” It should not have taken the Covid-19 pandemic for him to realise this.

Matt Hancock wears his NHS badge on the steps of 10 Downing Street - but what about social care?

“Information, support and mutual understanding between health and social care are flowing.” Except when it comes to the discharge of Covid-19 patients into care homes with fatal consequences for some.

“My view is health and social care have a common mission – too care for people – but too often, in the past, bureaucracy has held them apart.” So, too, have pontificating pipsqueak politicians.

And then Mr Hancock concluded his self-congratulatory speech with these words: “From the start we have worked incredibly hard to throw that protecting ring around our care homes.”

Not only do 11,000 deaths in this sector stand testament to Mr Hancock’s failure to provide that “protective ring” – but even the head of Care England and Justice Secretary now confirm that the NHS took precedence over social care.

Mr Hancock’s five statements could not have been further from the truth. They were five admissions of failure from a Minister who thought he was being clever launching a ‘Care’ badge at the start of the pandemic before discarding it until this week.

Yet, 24 hours later when Mr Hancock was rebuked the Speaker for his poor behaviour at PMQs, the NHS lapel badge was back in full view on his suit jacket.

Further evidence – if any was needed – that Mr Hancock needs, in time, to be replaced by a grown-up Minister capable of creating a National Health and Care Service for the 21st century that provides joined-up hospital and community support from cradle to grave.

RIGHTLY or wrongly, there’s a cohort of people who believe that it is disloyal to criticise the Government at a time of national crisis.

They’re particularly vocal when it comes to Prime Minister’s Questions where Sir Keir Starmer, the new Labour leader, is making probing points to Boris Johnson.

Be careful what you wish for. When Iain Duncan Smith became Tory leader a day after the 9/11 terror attacks, he was supportive of Tony Blair’s government then – and then in the build-up to the Iraq war in 2003.

Now there are many who believe IDS failed in his democratic duty by not asking the more pertinent questions about military intelligence over weapons of mass destruction and so on.

As such, you don’t have to support Labour, or be one of its cheerleaders, to recognise that Sir Keir Starmer’s approach is the correct one.

THANK you to Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the no nonsense Speaker, for reminding ministers about their duty to respond to MPs promptly – even in these abnormal times.

Clearly irked, he warned them this week: “The Government have called for Parliament to set an example as to how business can continue in this new normal. The Government should also set an example themselves.

“The Departments that do not improve soon can expect to be called to answer an urgent question on this matter.”

Straight and to the point. Unlike (Mr) John Bercow, his predecessor. Now Sir Lindsay, can you get Matt Hancock to answer his correspondence from the press and public on social care?

A MEMO to faceless broadband providers like Virgin Media when connections are cut out. It’s unacceptable for a recorded telephone message to ring back during normal working hours at 7.45am and 8.30pm.

They need to recognise that this is a 24/7 economy – even more so as people adapt to home working in the wake of Covid-19 – and they, too, need to step up to the plate. How about doubling their call centre staff for starters?

I HEAR that Boris Johnson is ‘fizzing with enthusiasm’ for the North according to the ultra-loyal Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney. I’ve no reason to doubt him – but I do wish that dedicated time could be found for Northern Powerhouse questions in Parliament.

When Grant Shapps faced MPs in the Commons on Monday, they were purely in his capacity as Transport Secretary with no time for his additional role as Northern Powerhouse Minister. The sooner this anomaly is put right, the better, so progress can be monitored and scrutinised more effectively.

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James Mitchinson