Tom Richmond: Alarm bells sound lounder over social care crisis after Tory contempt in Commons debate

When will the Government act over social care?
When will the Government act over social care?
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WHAT will it take for the Government to hear the political alarm bells that are getting ever louder over the scale of the social care crisis – and the urgency of long-overdue reforms so the elderly, and other vulnerable people, can be treated with dignity?

I ask this after the Tory party’s iniquitous and inexplicable behaviour during this week’s Opposition debate when proceedings had to be interrupted for Labour backbencher Toby Perkins to point out that at one point there was “not a single Member of Parliament on the Government benches”.

Five deadlines for publication of the Social Care Green Paper have already been missed.

Five deadlines for publication of the Social Care Green Paper have already been missed.

Tom Richmond: Bed bound with a broken hip and cancer but deemed well enough to go home – my experience of social care in UK

I suppose it is to be expected from a Tory party which has now missed five deadlines for the launch of a Green Paper first promised in the summer of 2017. Yet, judging by the response of Health Minister Caroline Dinenage, who wound up the debate at the end after not being present for the entirety of proceedings, nothing is imminent after this teasing question from Lib Dem MP Norman Lamb: “Do the Government intend it to lead to reform in the current Parliament when it is published, or are we likely to have to wait until some time in the middle of the next decade?”

The Minister played for time with this careful response: “I think the honest answer to that question is that there will be a bit of both... it will be possible for some developments to take place immediately, but others will take longer.”

Dr Sarah Wollaston: We must build social care consensus now and show we have learned from Brexit

Yet this bluster prompted a withering rebuke from Dr Sarah Wollaston who recently defected from the Tories to Change UK. Not only is she a GP but she also chairs Parliament’s Health Select Committee and warned earlier in the debate that a cross-party approach needed to be forged at the outset and for there to be honesty over the cost implications. She saw straight through the obfuscation and asked: “The Minister’s reply suggests that the Green Paper already exists. There is a great deal of frustration about the delay. The Green Paper was supposed to follow hard on the heels of the NHS 10-year plan because the two were closely linked.

“The Secretary of State (Matt Hancock) gave a pledge from the Dispatch Box that it would be published before Christmas. Will the Minister at least set out the reasons for the delay, and give some indication of when we might expect it?”

The Minister’s reply, on the eve of the King’s Fund think-tank saying social care had reached “crisis point”, beggared belief. She said: “As the hon. Lady will know, a version of the Green Paper already exists, but that does not mean that we are resting on our laurels while we are waiting for an opportunity to publish it.”

What complacency as the Health Secretary smirked. More than 71,000 elderly patients a year have to be readmitted to hospital within 24 hours because they have been discharged prematurely in the haste to free up bed space.

According to the Office for National Statistics, nearly one quarter of the population will be over 65 within 14 years – exacerbating pressure on hospitals and social care. And, while there will be an extra 4.4 million people living in the UK, only 1.5 million of these extra citizens will be under the age of 65, adding to the debate about how care should be funded.

I return to my original point – what it will take for the Government to act on social care and start building a consensus? Or have the Tories learned nothing from Brexit?

TODAY’S House of Lords report on the rural economy is an example of Westminster politics at its very best. Sensible questions were given a courteous – and thoughtful – response by Environment Secretary Michael Gove, one of Theresa May’s better appointments.

And when a Labour peer suggested that each Local Enterprise Partnership, including those in urban areas, produce an audit each year to demonstrate their commitment to rural businesses and countryside communities, Mr Gove responded by saying: “I don’t disagree.”

I look forward to seeing this new approach being implemented.

AS the Tories fight amongst themselves, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pledged £1.3bn a year to reverse cuts to 3,000 bus routes since 2010. I’m in agreement with his sentiment – public transport matters for social and environmental reasons – but it would be remiss not to challenge the economics and logic.

Mr Corbyn blames falling passenger numbers on Tory ‘austerity’ cuts. Yet he must be certain that this annual subsidy will definitely lead to a significant uplift in bus use. Where’s the evidence? A responsible, and transparent, Opposition would be able to answer this straight away if its motives are totally sincere.

VETERAN Tory MP Sir Bill Cash shows no sign of heeding the call by Nicky Morgan, a former Education Secretary, to stop using wartime language like ‘betrayal’, ‘capitulation’ and ‘appeasement’ over Brexit because they were triggering death threats against MPs.

Sir Bill – an arch Brexiteer who has accused Theresa May of ‘abject surrender’ – went on national radio to accuse France and Germany of being “intransigent”. He would know all about intransigence, wouldn’t he?

WHEN Cliff Thorburn was about to complete the first maximum 147 break at the World Snooker Championships at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, commentator Jack Karnehm limited himself to just three words: “Good luck mate.” Contrast this economy of language to John Virgo’s verboseness as he bores for Britain before, during and after every shot at this year’s tournament. If he is such a know-it-all, why was he not a better player?

tom.richmond@jpimedia.co.uk