Why National Insurance should rise to fund social care reform – Andrew Vine

A FRIEND who manages a care company spends her days trying to solve an irreconcilable conflict between need and provision.

How should social care be reformed and funded?

On the one hand, there is an ever-increasing demand from her clients for care ranging from personal hygiene and preparing meals, to simple companionship to break up long days spent alone.

On the other, there is a chronic shortage of staff to provide any of this, especially since so many foreign-
born carers returned to their home countries after Brexit or because of the pandemic.

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Caught in the middle are the elderly, not getting enough of whatever they need as carers rush from one appointment to the next, attempting to cover all the bases, ensuring that no one is neglected whilst at the same time knowing the service ought to be much better than they are able to give.

Boris Johnson promised to reform social care on the day that he became Prime Minister in July 2019.

Anyone involved in social care, or the families whose relatives need looking after, will recognise this scenario.

It is just one aspect of the crisis in care that grows worse by the month as the system slips inexorably towards collapse and drags local authorities ever closer to bankruptcy.

This simply can’t go on and today or tomorrow may see, at long last, a start made on solving the crisis if the Government acts according to its briefings and announces some form of tax rise to give care the funding it needs.

It was more than two years ago when Boris Johnson stood on the steps of Downing Street and announced he had a plan to fix social care. Utter rubbish. There was no such plan.

Only now, in the aftermath of the pandemic that brought the vital importance of social care into sharp focus, and shone a spotlight on its problems, does there appear to be any serious attempt to do something about 
it.

And at its heart is a truth that successive governments have avoided for years – that just like the NHS, if we want a care system that works, we’re all going to have to pay for it.

Forty years of governments since Margaret Thatcher’s have peddled the myth that taxes can be cut whilst services are maintained at the same level.

That cannot be, and there’s an irony in the Premier who famously espoused his political philosophy as having his cake and eating it being the man to whom it falls to tell the public that doesn’t work in reality.

In having to raise taxes – in whatever form it comes, whether a hike in National Insurance or some other formula – Mr Johnson will smash one of the manifesto commitments that won him a thumping electoral victory.

The howl of protest from his own party will be ear-splitting and accompanied by dire warnings of Tory seats lost at the next election, especially those red wall constituencies here in the North.

Well, tough. For once, unquestionably, Mr Johnson will be doing the right thing if he levels with the public, and tells them what they know in their hearts to be true.

There are no short-cuts, no magic formulas or clever tricks with budgets that can sort out social care. Only if most of us are left very fractionally poorer by having to pay a few bob extra in tax will this be solved.

And it won’t cost us much. There isn’t going to be a return to the punitive tax rates of the 1970s. Most people won’t really be thrown into financial difficulties by paying a few pounds extra every month. Yes, it will break an electoral promise, but so what?

The 2021 we’re living in could not have been foreseen when Mr Johnson won power. The pandemic has changed everything and raised awareness of how central a role social care plays – or will play – in the lives of virtually everyone.

There can hardly be a family in the country which does not, at some point, have to face the realities of caring for an elderly relative, whether by helping them stay in their own home with support or finding a suitable residential setting where they will be happy and well looked after.

The worry over care arises when services fall short because of underfunding or lack of staff, and families fret that those they love are not receiving the help they need, or worse, that they are unhappy or suffering in some way.

That’s what keeps people with elderly relatives awake at night, not the notion of being a few quid worse off, which they will adjust to.

Raising taxes won’t win Mr Johnson any new votes whenever the next general election comes around, but it won’t lose him as many as Tory doom-mongers predict either.

Not on this issue. Britain has woken up to the crisis engulfing social care over the past 18 months and the desire to see it fixed will trump any chuntering about broken pledges from a manifesto written in what now seems like a long-ago past.

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