Joan Bakewell: Why social care is a sin of omission as policy failures fuel crisis

Why was social care omitted from Chancellor Philip Hammond's Budget?
Why was social care omitted from Chancellor Philip Hammond's Budget?
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I CONFINE my comments on the shortcomings of this Budget to the two words: social care – a sin of omission, if you like. We are promised a Green Paper in the summer. How long do we have to wait?

The social care budget and its policy was already a problem in 2008, when I took up the position of voice of older people for the Government. It was still a problem in 2011 when Andrew Dilnot published his report proposing a cap on individual costs.

At that time a sum of £35,000 a year was suggested, it went up to £50,000, then it went up to £72,000 and now we understand that the idea of a cap on individual contributions has been dropped.

A rather cobbled-together proposal in the hurry to get the Conservative manifesto together had the seeds of a good solution in it, but it was dismissed by the tabloids as a “dementia tax” and when you invent such a phrase, it spreads like wildfire and the issue becomes politicised.

Social care has become politicised. That is because the older generation – older people – are often represented by the media, but also in people’s minds, as doing very well at the moment.​

It is said how privileged we all are, because those of us of a certain age can draw the heating allowance. The heating allowance is the same amount as our daily allowance – we are, indeed, extremely privileged – but “the old” is not a single cohort of people like us.

The Joseph Rowntree Trust report announced that there are 300,000 more old people – pensioners – currently in poverty than there were, so the old are not a single unit. The triple lock, much used to reinforce the well-being of the less well-off, is used to hammer the likes of us, who are seen to be benefiting.Something needs to change about the use of social care as a political weapon. Would the Budget do something about it? It failed.

The heating allowance is £300 a year. Who needs it? I was stopped in the street by Robert Plant, the multi-millionaire rock star, of Led Zeppelin. He said: “Joan, I’ve been sent £300 by the Government. Why?”

Why indeed? The heating allowance for older people should be means tested. When I first received it, I tried to send it back but I was told it could not be accepted. There was no facility for taking it back.

I, like many others like me, give that heating allowance to charity, but it could be means tested if it were added to the income tax statement of our income.

When I speak to young people about how they are going to live their life and choose a career, I say to them “Have you thought about the care sector?”. It should be a marvellous opportunity. It should be a booming sector of the economy. In fact, it is a basket case. There is a huge demand: there are 15,000 centenarians this year – this will have doubled by 2030 –and 500,000 people aged over 90.

The numbers are increasing. This is a demand that will go on increasing. In market terms, that is a marvellous invitation to people to supply social care. Why is it not happening? It is not happening because society has not decided who is going to pay for it.

There is an illusion, shared by many, that social care came in with the National Health Service and support from the cradle to the grave included social care, so people resent the idea that they have to contribute to it. It comes as a shock to them and causes resentment.

At the same time, it suits many people to feel that it is the burden of the state to pay for them, whatever their wealth assets might be, and there is an unwillingness to contribute from assets such as their own houses.

So we have a situation of an increasing demand that we are failing to meet. This is a failure of a Tory Government who supposedly believe in the operation of the market. Yet there is a funding gap now predicted for social care of £1bn.

The Government spend £140bn on old people; six per cent of that goes on social care. This is bad economics and bad social care.

Joan Bakewell is a TV broadcaster and Labour peer who spoke in this week’s House of Lords debate on the Budget. This is an edited version.