Why 2023 has been a year of bitter disappointment for social care in this country - Mike Padgham

If I had a crystal ball, I wonder what I would see in 2024. As the mists clear, do I see a bright future for social care after politicians finally decide to make good on their promises and reform the sector? Or do I see social care still on its knees, with more providers leaving the sector and fewer people getting the care they need?

Maybe it is better not to look. Reflecting on a year of bitter disappointment, it is hard to feel optimistic for the year ahead.

It has felt this year that the Government was doing all it could to crush social care rather than save it.

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Rather than invest in social care, the Government has been cutting back, either directly, as it did back in April when the £500m earmarked to help train the social care workforce was halved to £250m, or indirectly by starving local authorities of the money they need to commission adequate care.

'Social care proved a hot potato for Theresa May'. PIC: Henry Nicholls/WPA Pool/Getty Images'Social care proved a hot potato for Theresa May'. PIC: Henry Nicholls/WPA Pool/Getty Images
'Social care proved a hot potato for Theresa May'. PIC: Henry Nicholls/WPA Pool/Getty Images

A Budget came and an Autumn Statement went and in neither was there a mention of social care let alone a hint of the investment needed to put the sector on a par with the NHS. The Chancellor seems to have forgotten the extra £7bn a year he said social care needed when he was chair of the Health and Social Care Committee.

And as a December sting in the tail, the Government introduced measures to lower immigration, including a ban on care workers bringing their dependents over to join them in the UK, a move which will deter some from coming to work in care in this country. The Government wants us to recruit more in this country – as if we hadn’t thought of doing so. We want to recruit locally and reducing our access to overseas staff will force us to try even harder on our own doorsteps. But the reason we turned to overseas recruits hasn’t changed. Until we get more funding and better rates of pay, the job will continue to appeal less than other better-paid and less stressful occupations. I don’t subscribe to the argument that by clamping down on benefits, more people will seek jobs in social care. We need people who truly want to work for us, not pressed men and women taking the job to avoid losing their benefits.

Along the way there was an unexpectedly large hike in the National Living Wage, very welcome for employees but as it has not been matched by an increase in care fee levels and funding in the sector, it is going to be a major headache for care providers.

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You hear people say that social care is at a crossroads – let’s face it, social care has been stuck at a crossroads for so long that we have called out the AA.

I am optimistic that social care will be a big issue for the General Election. It proved a hot potato for Theresa May and she was forced to abandon her so-called ‘dementia tax’ proposals during the 2017 election.

But that shouldn’t put politicians off from tackling the subject. The reason social care is in the crisis it is in is because successive governments have failed to properly bring about the reform it needs. That can’t happen again.

The Government has proved again and again that it can act quickly when it needs to – the current pushing through of legislation to send illegal immigrants to Rwanda has proved that. So why is it taking decades to address a serious issue here at home with our own families and friends going without care, year after year?

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We must hold politicians accountable for that failure to reform social care and put pressure on them to address it this time. They might not want to – for the reasons outlined above with Theresa May – but it must happen. At the moment social care is suffering death by a thousand cuts with the sector losing providers, more and more people missing out on care and a gradual decline. The loss of a major provider would change all that and grab headlines for all the wrong reasons. We have to avoid that at all costs.

We have our part to play. We must ensure our house is in order, that we are doing all we can to recruit locally, for example, and to control our costs and make a job in social care as attractive as possible. And we must speak with a united voice when we call for change and not be distracted by differences in approach.

The Independent Care Group has set out its Five Pillars of Social Care.

These include ring-fencing a percentage of GDP for care, creating a National Care Service, setting a minimum carer wage, establishing a task force for reform and creating fair tariffs for care beds and homecare visits. But we need Government help.

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Part of the problem is that people only wake up to social care – and the dire state it is in – when they need it. We must educate people that a need for social care isn’t something that happens to someone else, it is a situation that happens to our parents, our siblings, our aunts and uncles and to us.

To be cared for in our lives when we are less able to look after ourselves should be a basic human right in a civilised society. We aren’t providing that at the moment – I hope 2024 will be the year when we start to, otherwise the NHS and the whole of the country will live to regret it.

Mike Padgham is chair of the Independent Care Group.

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