Social care deserves better than this Boris Johnson shambles – Jayne Dowle

INSPIRED to pick up my family tree research again after watching the new series of the BBC’s A House Through Time, which follows the fortunes of the inhabitants of a house in Headingley, Leeds, I came across Theresa Netherwood, who perished of “senile decay” in 1912, at the age of 84, “on the parish” in the Barnsley workhouse.

What will Boris Johnson's social care reforms mean in practice?

As I traced her story – farmer’s daughter, married and widowed twice, lodging with a son, before ill-health, poverty or likely a combination of both sent her destitute – on Tuesday, it struck me that, a century on, the Prime Minister’s announcement on social care offered no more of a solid solution to the fate of our older relatives.

Piecemeal, often reliant on the kindness and means of family, and with little or no respect from the authorities for the needs of the elderly person, tell me what’s actually changed?

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Whilst there are many admirable care homes in the UK, dedicated live-in carers and those who do their daily rounds for inadequate or no pay, there is still a huge gap between political understanding and personal experience.

What will Boris Johnson's social care reforms mean in practice?

After all, Boris Johnson’s announcement lacked even a hint of vision. No revolutionary plans for demystifying the system or making it a more attractive place to work. No clever thoughts on connecting up NHS services with after-care, or any thoughts at all really.

We’ve been waiting for this grand announcement since Jeremy Hunt was Health Secretary. When it came, it was with a crushing sense of disappointment.

When Mr Johnson took office in July 2019, he promised there was a social care plan ready to go. Then the pandemic struck in March 2020 and obviously this switched resources immediately to protecting the NHS, and social care was again shunted onto the back burner.

This newspaper, along with pressure groups representing 
the interests of elderly people, their families and carers, has been pressing for an announcement detailing a credible plan.

What will Boris Johnson's social care reforms mean in practice?

What we got, instead, was the breaking of a manifesto promise to not raise taxes or National Insurance contributions, and as yet, nothing concrete in return.

Like any taxpayer, I’m not happy about the prospect of handing over yet more of my earnings to a bottomless and unfathomable government pot through a 1.25 per cent rise in National Insurance contributions.

However, I’m not naïve either. I realise that an effective system of social care requires funding. It has to be paid for somehow, and although we’re facing the biggest rise in taxation in British peacetime, funding rightly should be the starting block.

The changes to the limits which families will be obliged to contribute are a necessary move – limiting a lifetime contribution to care to £86,000 – but too 
much emphasis has been put on the issue of property as necessary equity in the social care debate.

It skews thinking and swerves away from the gaping and long-standing holes in financial infrastructure to pay for decent care for everyone, not just those with the means to choose.

This is a failing of Conservative politicians, and it’s one Labour should be picking up on. Social care should not be about how much your house is worth. It should be able a fair and equitable system for all.

The second contention is that there are no accompanying plans for how social care will be improved by this extra injection of cash. The fear is that the funds will disappear into propping up the NHS, and that this is just a back-handed way of increasing public contributions to fill the £400bn black hole caused by Covid care, Test & Trace and the vaccination programme.

Mr Johnson promises a White Paper which will outline social care reforms, but we are right to be wary about when and what it may contain.

On a level of trust too, it blows open the long-standing vow that a major overhaul of social care was, to borrow from another promise that turned out to be hollow, “an oven-ready deal”. If this government lacks a plan to go with its demands for cash now, why should we believe it will have one any time soon?

Horror at ending up in the workhouse, even when after what became known as “Public Assistance Institutions” were abolished in 1948, hung over my grandmother’s generation. I’d like to say it was now a distant memory, consigned to the past by political innovation.

The workhouses may have gone, but fear of old age still haunts us. Mr Johnson has done nothing yet to allay this.

Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.