As I write this, neither Boris Johnson nor Jeremy Hunt is exactly making social care their number one priority on the hustings, with Brexit predictably dominating discussions.
That is not to say that Brexit isn’t important – of course it is – but there are other questions, including those on care, to which the country has a right to hear some answers from the candidates.
What will they do about the long-delayed Green Paper? How will they help the 1.4 million people who aren’t getting the care they need? How will they help the sector to end the staff recruitment crisis? What will they do to address the unfairness in the way people with dementia are treated?
While we wait for these answers, the crisis in social care continues to deepen.
The question is asked regularly about when the Green Paper will be published and always meets with the same prevarication, each time another kick in the teeth for those not getting the care they need and a sector in crisis.
The leadership election and Brexit dominate domestic politics at the expense of all else, including social care. Older and vulnerable people are paying the price and it is a national scandal when it should be a national priority.
The Government keeps making positive noises about what a priority the Green Paper is, but if it is so, why isn’t any progress being made? If it is, as has been suggested, a lack of Parliamentary time, then MPs should make time – on Fridays, or weekends or into the Parliamentary recess, rather than keep putting it back again and again. Carers can’t put off providing care.
Maybe we won’t make progress until a new Prime Minister has been chosen. Of the two candidates in front of us, Jeremy Hunt has accepted that too much has been cut from social care budgets, but not explained why he let it happen when he was secretary of state, nor what he intends to do about it now.
And Boris Johnson, instead of promising tax cuts for some, should be explaining how he is going to spend more on social care. We haven’t heard that from him yet.
Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are, I am sure, both honourable politicians but I would feel more comfortable if I had heard either speak with some passion or urgency about social care. We need more spending on social care, integration of the sector with the NHS, better recognition and freedom of movement post-Brexit for care staff and the treatment of dementia as a health issue so that people with it are cared for like those with cancer or heart disease.
Both candidates would do well to visit the frontline of social care to see the crisis for themselves and I would be willing to welcome them.
This, and previous governments, have let us down again and again over social care. We have had 13 documents in 17 years (four independent reviews/commissions, four consultations, five white and green papers). This is clear evidence of far too much talk and discussion and far too little action.
Earlier this summer we saw war veterans commemorate fallen colleagues from D-Day with courage and dignity. How shocking it was to then witness the way we are now looking after some of that same generation in the two BBC Panorama programmes on care in 2019. The comparison was awful. The programmes exposed the reality of social care in 2019, local authorities unable to cope because of spending cuts and vulnerable people robbed of the care they deserve.
We need to see the long-promised reform of social care and the much-delayed Green Paper straight away, so that we can all work together to provide better care. Care Minister Caroline Dinenage may have warned that the Green Paper will not be “an immediate panacea” to all the ills and tribulations in social care, but it is all we have and we need action on it now.
Social care providers are ready, willing and able to move the sector forward and improve the quality of care and make examples like those featured on Panorama a thing of the past. The Government knows where we are and only needs to ask.
In the meantime, The Independent Care Group will continue to call for, and fight for, a fairer deal for social care and will remain optimistic that improvement is just around the corner.
At the very least we – and above all, those who need care to enjoy a decent quality of life, deserve to hear a message of hope from the next Prime Minister, whoever that may be.
Mike Padgham is chair of The Independent Care Group based in Scarborough.