AS I sit writing this, on my third cup of coffee, I am wondering how I can put across the importance, the urgency of the situation that we, as a nation, are facing: the crisis in social care.
It has been said so many times before: we have 1.5 million people living without the care they need. And it is something that all of us face. None of us know when we might be the one needing care.
Someone recently said to me that only the lucky die old. But do they? Are they lucky? I’d like to think that we are lucky to live a long life, but we all know that life may have unexpected and unwanted things in store: dementia, loneliness, lack of bladder control, to name but a few.
I am, by nature, a positive, glass-half-full sort of person – I find I have to be – and I have to hope that this will be social care’s year.
Why? There are thousands of people here, in this country, alone, scared and vulnerable, waiting for someone to take care of them. People in their own homes, people stuck on beds in hospital corridors, people being neglected.
If a child doesn’t get the care they require, this neglect is, rightly, called child abuse and parents are held accountable.
What about our 1.5 million adults who are not receiving the care they need, those who don’t have access to the right medication, those who don’t have access to the toilet and can go hungry and thirsty for hours without access to food and water? Is this not also a form of abuse; abuse that the Government is inflicting upon the most vulnerable of our citizens?
After taking office, Boris Johnson vowed to ‘fix the crisis in social care once and for all’. Does he know what this will take? This isn’t a problem that might happen in the future, it’s a crisis that is happening right now. In every town and city, basic human rights are being breached every day.
How can we call ourselves a civilised society when people are being left in their own excrement, waiting for care staff who are over-stretched and under-paid to come and take them to the toilet?
How many more people have to die as a direct result of lack of care? Do we have to wait until the NHS is completely crushed under the weight of the failing care system for the Government to implement change?
Surely Boris Johnson realises how outdated the current system is? People know what the NHS is, but do we actually have a social care system at all?
If we do, we must all recognise the huge holes it has, holes through which vulnerable people are falling, into neglect. I am not campaigning for myself, or my family, or for my business.
I’m campaigning on behalf of these people whose voices are not being listened to because they don’t contribute to the economy, not being listened to because they are part of an ageing population and here, in the West, we seem to have lost our respect for older people. These people are scared. And people shouldn’t have to live in fear.
Mr Johnson says he is running a people’s government. He has vowed to get Brexit done but he needs to get social care done too: this will require more than simply ‘addressing’ the issue. I realise this is no easy feat, but there are plenty of us, here in the care sector, who are willing to listen and advise on the best way forward.
If he needs an economic argument, we have one of those too. Whilst older and vulnerable adults might not contribute as much to the economy as others, health and social care certainly does. Combined they represent 10 per cent of the economy, more than electricity and gas, mining and construction. Social care employs 1.5m people and contributes £46.2bn to the economy. With support, it could contribute much more, as well as caring for people better.
And remember, delayed discharges (so-called bed blocking because there is no care available for someone to be discharged) cost the NHS £587m between the general election in 2017 and the one in 2019.
The Queen’s Speech made a commitment to seek “cross-party consensus on proposals for long term reform of social care”. That is all very well, but with the Labour Party about to go through a lengthy leadership process and the Liberal Democrats in disarray, it is hard to see how cross-party consensus will be achieved any time soon.
And, isn’t the Government’s resolution to seek ‘cross-party consensus’ just convenient political shorthand for pushing the issue away again? You can almost hear the sound of a “cross-party commission on social care” being established and asked to report back in 2021.
If we are to have cross-party action, it has to be urgent – with a strict deadline put to it.
Social care can’t wait for any more commissions, reports or investigations – we’ve had 13 of those in the past 17 years. We almost got a new Green Paper last year, allegedly. I wonder what happened to that...?
After the election Boris Johnson thanked electors – particularly those in so-called northern Labour heartlands – for ‘lending’ him their votes.
They will want to see him repay that loan and not just by delivering Brexit but by improving other things too, including the care of the elderly and vulnerable.
If Mr Johnson would like to start in Yorkshire, I invite him here to show him the extent of the crisis on the frontline of social care and share some thoughts on how to solve it. He is welcome to visit my care home in Scarborough, or I can travel to London. People outside the capital have ideas too.
Mr Johnson could make a name for himself as the leader who finally solved the social care crisis and ‘Care Bill Boris’ could go down in history. Prime Minister, the clock is ticking. Over to you.
Mike Padgham is chair of the Scarborough-based Independent Care Group.