Amongst all the political turmoil this week, some new statistics were published by the Office for National Statistics that should make people sit up and listen during the current crisis in social care. Put simply, a dramatic rise in the number of older people is on the horizon and we aren’t ready for it.
The ONS says the UK population will rise by 4.5 per cent during the next 10 years, from 66.4 million to 69.4 million in 2028. And there will be a growing number of older people – the proportion of those aged 85 and over is expected to almost double in the next 25 years, with the ONS saying the trend of an increasingly ageing population is likely to continue. Other statistics have predicted that the population aged 65 and over will increase between 2018 and 2035 from 10.2 million to 14.1 million people in England.
News that we are all living longer is something to celebrate but we have to be ready to ensure an ageing population has care in place to give everyone the quality of life they need. Skills for Care says we are going to need an extra 580,000 social care staff to cope with that increase, by 2035. So are we ready? No, we are not.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise. For just about the whole of the 40 years I have worked in health and social care, I and many others have been warning about an explosion in the number of older people and called on the government of the day to get prepared. To invest in social care so that we can not only give older and vulnerable people the care they need today but in a decade’s time and 20 years’ time too. That includes the current Government.
But the message isn’t getting through and it is difficult to see how we are going to make politicians listen and act. Eight out of 10 hospital chief executives recently warned that their wards will not be able to cope within a year because there isn’t enough care to look after older people away from hospital. That is now, not in 10 or 25 years’ time.
Some 1.4 million people are currently living without the care they need. Heaven knows what that figure could be a decade or two decades from now. Boris Johnson’s promise to solve social care looks more and more hollow as the weeks go by. Instead, the political landscape is dominated by Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. Admittedly, Brexit is very important, but all the energy of the country’s decision-makers is being drained by this tortuous process. Whichever side of the Brexit fence you sit on, it cannot be right that domestic issues have taken a backseat for so long.
Like Brexit, over social care there has been an awful lot of talk but little action. Like many governments before them, this government keeps kicking social care reform, including a long-promised Green Paper, further and further down the road. It is so much easier to keep putting that tricky issue off for another day. The victims – the 1.4 million vulnerable people who aren’t getting care and the many more added to that list every day – are a silent number, not blessed with the rousing voice of other issues. But yet they are your mum, your dad, your aunt, uncle, brother or sister who deserve help to enjoy their lives.
I fear people have become deadened about the crisis in social care. If you talk about it too much people stop listening, but we can’t keen on ignoring it either. Personally, I don’t know what it is going to take to make people sit up and take notice. Maybe we will wait until a big provider fails and thousands of people are left out on the street.
Social care is similar, albeit of course on a much, much lesser scale, to climate change. People have been warning for generations that a cataclysmic crisis is coming but not enough people have listened and done anything about it, to the point where many fear it is already too late. It isn’t too late but the sector needs action now. We need to see better funding; we need to see health and social care merged and a decision taken as to whether this is run by local or national government. We need to see incentives – like making care zero-rated for VAT, for example – to encourage providers to invest. And we need to see measures that recognise the amazing work that care workers do and that reward them properly. Not least they have to be paid better and that means more money into social care and some providers charging a more realistic price for the care they give. We also need to properly support the army of unpaid carers in this country whose selfless work goes so unrecognised.
Above all, we need to see the type of passion and dedication politicians are currently showing over Brexit to be shown as well for social care. An ageing population shouldn’t be something to be afraid of but something we are celebrating as people get the opportunity to enjoy a longer and happier life than ever before. But because of the chronic under-funding of social care we have to scratch our heads and say: ‘How will we cope?’ And why? Because we simply aren’t ready to care.
Mike Padgham is chair of the Independent Care Group based in Scarborough and a national campaigner on social care.