PM urged to channel Churchill and employ 'action this day' on social care reform

A social care boss who “punched the air” when Boris Johnson promised to reform social care on the steps of Downing Street when he became Prime Minister a year ago says he feels let down and urged the PM to embody his hero Churchill in bringing forward change.

A year ago on Friday, making his victory speech outside Downing Street, Mr Johnson said: “I am announcing now – on the steps of Downing Street – that we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared.”

But the “clear plan” has yet to appear, and Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group which represents social care providers across York and North Yorkshire, said despite the coronavirus pandemic, more should have been achieved by now.

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Mr Padgham said: “I can remember punching the air when I saw him say those words. I thought ‘yes at last’, I was encouraged by his words.

Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group which represents social care providers across York and North Yorkshire. Photo: JPI MediaMike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group which represents social care providers across York and North Yorkshire. Photo: JPI Media
Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group which represents social care providers across York and North Yorkshire. Photo: JPI Media

“I thought someone's got it, and I had high hopes of him delivering.”

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But he said now “he seems to have backtracked on the promises”, and added: “I still feel as though he might - if he was briefed properly - see the sense of doing it, but each day and each week that goes past, my enthusiasm that he’s going to be the one falls away a little bit more.”

Successive prime ministers have failed to come up with a solution of how to pay for the care required by an ageing population.

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And Number 10 said the Government had sought views from across Parliament but the issue was complex and it would take time to develop a solution to the problem.

But Mr Padgham felt if the same urgency was applied to social care as to, for example, Brexit, the issue could be fixed.

He said: “I'd like the same enthusiasm by the Prime Minister directed towards social care as Brexit, let’s ‘get social care done’.

“He's a great fan of Churchill, isn't he? And I've read some of Churchill's work and 'action this day' was one of Churchill's famous phrases.

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“If they wanted to do it, they could. If their heart was in it, I'm sure they could, because the money they'd have spent on it is a fraction of what they've spent on the NHS and a fraction of what they spent with Covid, so if they had the political will, it could be done.”

The importance of social care has been highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic, but the crisis has also ripped through care homes showcasing their vulnerable position.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has repeatedly paid tribute to care workers, and during a coronavirus press conference in April he said the Government would be adopting a new care badge as “a single brand for social care”.

The badge was initially launched in 2019 - before the coronavirus pandemic - for companies and charities to distribute to carers for free, and was not initially a Government initiative.

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Mr Padgham said: “Again, I punched the air when I saw that, but it was empty words.”

He said he had not seen the Health Secretary wearing the badge since and added: “The thing is people want a decent salary and then a badge, not a badge and poor salary.”

Mr Padgham said there was little need for social care when the NHS was first launched in 1948 but people only lived for a few years after finishing work, and would mostly be cared for by their families.

But now, he said, people can live often for 35 years after they retire.

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“So I prefer the idea of a National Care Service funded by taxation,” Mr Padgham said.

“Boris could be as bold as [Aneurin] Bevin was in 1948 and make 2020 the year of the National Care Service and be remembered for generations to come as the person that finally solved the social care problem and merged the two together.

“I thought he might be somebody who wanted to do that. I can't see why a politician can't make a name for themselves with it.”

Earlier this month The National Pensioners Convention (NPC), which represents around 1,000 local, regional and national pensioner groups across the UK – with a total of one million members - joined calls for a National Care Service.

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In a report the organisation said there had been a “systematic attempt to redefine illnesses affecting old age as ‘social’ rather than ‘medical’, and to shift such patients from the NHS to local authorities” over the past four decades.

This has led to local authorities falling under increased strain, people being forced to sell their homes to pay for care, growing concerns about its quality and declining preventative community services, the NPC said.

Its report, Goodbye Cinderella: A New Settlement for Care Services, said: “The pandemic has exposed all of these failings; the care sector was already in extreme difficulties, especially given government austerity measures since 2010.

“There is every reason to be concerned about the future of care services; this level of neglect by Government must never happen again.

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“There is a way forward – through a National Care Service, free at the point of need, funded through taxation.

“It will restore dignity, respect and equality to older people and the generations that follow them.”

The proposed joined-up service would involve no division between health and social care provision and would require all employed care workers to register with a professional body.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman previously said: “We recognise that a long-term solution for social care is needed.

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“There are complex questions to address, which is why we plan to hold cross-party talks and we will bring forward a plan that puts social care on a sustainable footing to ensure the reforms will last long into the future.”

But Mr Padgham, who has been in the industry for more than two decades, said change was needed now.

He said: “I'm old enough to remember Tony Blair telling us he didn't want to live in a country where when you got old you have to sell your house to pay for care, so that was in 1997.

“Gordon Brown offered some similar words when he became Prime Minister.

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“Then we went to the coalition and David Cameron and dementia.

“Then we went to Theresa May, and now Boris Johnson, so every person has said something similar, and nothing's been delivered.

“And you think to yourself enough is enough, you can't keep passing it down the road to someone else, do it now.”

He added: “We've got to be radical because this tinkering with things isn't working. I think someone's got to be bold and step up and say enough's enough, let's make a National Care Service.”

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The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Thursday: “We recognise the challenges facing the social care sector, and we're doing everything that we can to support it.

“We remain committed to bringing forward a plan for social care so everybody is treated with dignity and respect, and nobody has to sell their home to pay for care.

“The Health Secretary has sought views from across Parliament, but this is one of the most complex issues that we face, and it's right and take the time to develop a fair sustainable solution.”

He added: “We continue to work on the proposals. I don't think we shy away from the fact that this is a very complex area, and that we do need to make sure that we get it right, and we deliver a solution which is fair, and also which is sustainable.”

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