I AM delighted that, in his early days as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has given a commitment to “fix social care”.
I recall Andy Burnham, as Secretary of State for Health, trying to get cross-party agreement to deal with the issue following the financial crisis at the end of the last decade – and Sir Andrew Dilnot coming up with proposals for social care for David Cameron as a basis for finding a way forward.
Sadly these attempts fell at the hurdle of pre-election politics.
Short-term political gain saw an end to attempts to get a long-term fix to an issue that has bedevilled governments for decades.
Ten years later the issues remain the same.
The people we love and care about, who are living with disability or frailty, deserve better from their country.
Social care is the most personal of care, happening as it does in people’s own homes. It may not be as visible as a hospital or a GP clinic, but it plays an equally vital role in people’s wellbeing.
We have both the evidence and also the policy options which could enable us to provide the social care people in Leeds, and throughout the country, need and deserve in a sustainable, properly resourced way.
Giving adequate support for older and disabled people to live dignified and fulfilling lives has always been about the political will to do so – and not fundamentally about resources – as recent funding pledges for other government priorities has clearly demonstrated.
In July, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee published their report Social care funding: time to end a national scandal today which recommends that the Government spends £8bn now to restore social care to acceptable standards and introduces free personal care over a period of five years.
Research by The King’s Fund tells us that the way care is funded is not well understood by most people, with many thinking care will be provided free when they need it.
Reduced central government funding for councils has fettered our ability to invest in services that promote independence and give quality to older and disabled people’s lives by sustaining social contact.
Some councils have been forced to balance their budgets by squeezing fee levels to providers – to the detriment of quality and sustainable markets.
If there is not action soon, state-supported care will be the 21st century equivalent of the Poor House – to the shame of our nation.
In Leeds, we have seen the percentage of the council’s budget spent on providing adult social care rise and rise.
It now stands at 42 per cent – meaning that almost £2 of every £5 we spend is on adult social care.
We are acknowledged for our best practice and have been continuously improving the support we offer in the face of reduced funding and rising demand and expectations.
Our investment in extra care housing and home care – where people can live secure in the knowledge that the impact of reduced mobility and ill-health need not mean leaving home – is a welcome example of this.
We work ever more closely with NHS colleagues to ensure care and health care are linked to provide the help that works best for people and at the same time reduces the demand on acute hospital care.
As a council, we were one of the first cities to sign up to the Ethical Care Charter, committing us to making sure workers are properly rewarded and respected for the work they do with the vulnerable people in our communities.
Quality care cannot be provided on the cheap. We have an incredible workforce delivering care, both directly as council employees, but also across the third and private sector.
They cannot be expected to deliver the quality of care we would expect for our mum or dad if we do not invest in them and pay a fair wage for the skilled work they do.
When we celebrated the anniversary of the NHS last year, we also celebrated the anniversary of social care funded through national insurance.
There is broad public acceptance of the need to fund the NHS properly so that it is available when we may need it. There is increasing evidence that the public expect the same for social care.
I hope the Prime Minister will take urgent steps to build plans for social care with cross-party involvement, long-term financial funding and a recognition that this issue affects families in every city, town and village and cannot afford another decade of filing in the ‘too difficult’ folder.
Rebecca Charlwood is Leeds City Council’s Executive Member for Health, Wellbeing and Adults.