On Wednesday we will have the first Budget since the country was hit by Covid-19. We will see what the Chancellor has to say about the future, and what possible shape the road to recovery might take.
We hope that road includes a big signpost saying “Get Social Care Done”.
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has earned much praise for the way he has handled the financial side of the pandemic. Yes, he should support those businesses and self-employed that cannot access the support grants based on a business’s rateable value.
And I would like him to support individuals by continuing the Universal Credit top-up for those in need. But, by and large, he has done a good job in handling financial support through the most difficult of times.
Now he has a huge opportunity to further make a name for himself and go down in history as the Chancellor who finally tackled the social care crisis and paved the way for better care for millions of the country’s oldest, most frail and most vulnerable people.
Covid-19 has taken a terrible toll of those people, with almost 30,000 of them taken from us by this cruel and brutal pandemic.
As we emerge blinking from Covid-19 this year, we must tackle social care. It was in a critical condition before Covid-19 with £8bn cut from budgets since 2010, some 1.4m people living without the care they need, and 122,000 care worker vacancies.
Heaven knows what shape it is in now after the most bruising year ever to hit the sector.
The Chancellor, and indeed this Budget, will not in themselves sort out social care. We know that. But we should at least be able to see evidence that this vital sector of the community is going to be high priority when it comes to the recovery.
The time has come to be bold and not just tinker at the edges or push reform further down the road, as we have seen all too often in recent years.
No, we want the Chancellor to say that this time the Treasury will not be the barrier to reform for social care and it is going to happen and happen now.
A lot of people, the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer included, have been referencing the post-Second World War period when the country needed to rebuild after the rigours of conflict.
It is true that we are going to need to rebuild after our fight with the virus. It was in that post-war period that Nye Bevan formulated the plan for the NHS, universal healthcare, free at the point of delivery, for everyone.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if social care could have its Nye Bevan moment during the recovery? We need a rebuilt social care system, properly funded for everyone.
One immediate act in the Budget would be the give all care workers a bonus for the amazing job they have done during Covid-19. Devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have already given them £500, so why doesn’t our Government follow suit with a bonus in England?
Then the Chancellor could end the long-standing and unfair VAT anomaly that has adversely impacted upon the finances of social care providers for so long. At the moment, social care providers are charged VAT on the goods and services they buy but, unlike other businesses, they cannot reclaim it.
A simple solution to this, which we have asked for over many years, would be to make social care zero-rated for VAT. This would free up more money for social care providers to reward their staff and invest in their businesses, aiding the economy. This would be cost neutral for the public and local public authorities.
The Chancellor could show the way towards reform by making more money available to commissioners, like local authorities, so that they can start paying a fair price for that care to providers. This would be a way to enable care providers, particularly those providing care to people funded by the public sector, to pay their staff better. They have worked so hard and selflessly during Covid-19 and deserve better. Labour has suggested a minimum wage of £10 an hour for all such care workers. I would agree with that and say they deserve that and more. But to pay it, we need better funding across social care.
We have long argued that investment in care makes sense from an economic point of view. Social care already contributes £46.2bn to the economy and, with the right support, could contribute even more. Aside from tackling the scandalous number of people who can’t get the care they need, investing in care would also make a valuable contribution to the economic recovery too.
Longer term, the Chancellor needs to signal that the Treasury will not be the obstacle to root and branch reform of social care. This means merging NHS healthcare and social care or at the very least bringing them to parity in terms of funding and career structure for staff.
It needs to be clear that, as a country, we are going to have to pay for a proper, sustainable social care system. Covid-19 exposed a social care sector which was in crisis and vulnerable to something like the pandemic. We have seen the toll it has taken, and we must never let that happen again.
Better support for the care of the most vulnerable will have to be funded by more money from general taxation or National Insurance. People will pay more to have the care they need.
Keir Starmer’s suggested recovery bond was greeted with some derision and in some quarters dismissed as a gimmick. But at least there was a glimmer of innovation there, of someone at least thinking of a way to tackle the problems.
So, if we are to have a recovery bond, could we also have a social care bond too please? Then we can start the reform of social care which the country is crying out for.
* Mike Padgham is chair of the North Yorkshire-based Independent Care Group.
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click here to subscribe.