Despite saying when he was elected in 2019 and again at his party conference last week, that he wants to get social care done, the Prime Minister’s actions don’t match his words.
At the height of the first wave of Covid-19, Boris Johnson accused care homes of failing to follow the pandemic guidelines, a comment that incensed battle-weary carers the length and breadth of the country.
Then last week the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, urged carers who are unwilling to have the Covid-19 vaccination to go out and get another job!
Social care performs a vital service to our community, looking after hundreds of thousands of people in their own homes, in care and nursing homes and other settings.
And there’s the economic value. Skills for Care reported this week that adult social care contributes at least £50.3bn to the economy.
The new Social Care Minister Gillian Keegan, the 15th in 20 years, has hinted that council tax would be the source of extra funding needed to provide care in the future and it was up to local authorities to sort it out. That is all very well, but those councils have been starved of funding for a generation. To suggest that they can suddenly conjure up the money – either by hiking up council tax or cutting other services – is clearly a nonsense.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said council tax increases of 3.6 per cent per year will be needed for the next three years just to stand still, pushing up bills by £160 by 2024−25. With other cost pressures this could rise to over £220.
The Government’s plans for social care could cost councils £5bn a year in the longer term, almost three times the additional annual funding currently allocated over the next three years, the IFS warned.
Mr Javid has said that families should be the first port of call when it comes to providing care for the older and vulnerable, rather than the state. Many people would, I am sure, love to take care of their relatives but are prevented from doing so by geographical distance, for example. And does the Government really want people to stop working to look after their relatives? This is all the language of abdicating responsibility, of saying that social care should be someone else’s priority.
The Government maybe believes that it solved the social care crisis by announcing a cap on care costs and some extra National Insurance funded money.
But if I were a mechanic, I would say they have tried to fix the car by reading the handbook and not even lifting the bonnet. As Winston Churchill put it: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
The cap, whilst helpful, only applies to the care element, rather than accommodation and food. Many will still have to sell their home to pay for care.
The extra funding will first go to the NHS, with social care not receiving any benefit for some time. Mr Javid is talking (finally) about merging NHS healthcare with social care. This is obvious, with the only question being: who looks after the combined service? Should it be central Government, as it currently is with the NHS, or local authorities, as it currently is with social care.
The Secretary of State’s comments on the vaccine was another, misguided, smokescreen to mask the problems in care.
Social care has already been hit hard by the inability to recruit overseas workers following Brexit. The compulsory vaccine could take another 40,000 out of the sector – where there are already 120,000 vacancies. These are care vacancies that are preventing our loved ones from having that vital carer’s visit each day. They are vacancies that make it harder to cover shifts in care and nursing homes and instead reduce the quality of care.
Instead of slapping down social care or trying to shift it somewhere else, the Government should be tackling it head on. It has proved that it can step in and tackle other crises, why won’t it do so for our most vulnerable?
We need proper, constructive dialogue, not waffle, false promises and rhetoric. And above all, we need proper action. No more ‘blah, blah, blah’ as Greta Thunberg so beautifully put it.
Instead of enraging the Government should be engaging.
This crisis won’t go away, Mr Johnson, and trying to get it off your plate won’t do anything but delay the inevitable: a meltdown in care that will leave all of us in dire straits – people without care and the NHS on its knees.
Mike Padgham is chair of the Independent Care Group in North Yorkshire.
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