Tom Richmond: Social care '“ Alan Johnson's compassion versus the brazen Sajid Javid as Minister shows his contempt

WHY is social care now at the mercy of the brazen Sajid Javid when Labour's Alan Johnson, a unifying former minister of compassion, is languishing in the political wilderness?

Former cabinet minister Alan Johnson.

More than a week after an insightful Parliamentary debate on social care, I find it all the more galling that there’s no place for the moderate Mr Johnson – the Hull West and Hessle MP – on the political front line when the likes of Mr Javid, the Rochdale-born Communities Secretary, are becoming increasingly cavalier and arrogant because they don’t respect Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn or his equally ineffectual front bench.

Mr Johnson’s motivation, as a former health secretary who grew up in poverty, was that “adult social care presents the biggest domestic political challenge of our time” – who looks after our parents and elderly relatives when they can no longer do so themselves? – and that funding pressures have led to the mortality rate increasing by 5.7 per cent.

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In other words, lives are being lost and this was the basis for an impassioned speech with five noteworthy qualities that merit a wider audience.

He was humble – he regretted that he could not convince colleagues that people working beyond the state retirement age should pay national insurance. Dubbed the “granny tax”, he lamented a political culture that rarely manages “to rise above the glib and the facile”.

He was consensual – he applauded the Prime Minister’s support of ongoing attempts to form a cross-party agreement on this issue but fears next week’s Budget will be a major disappointment.

He was political – unlike Labour’s floundering front bench, he said this issue was “all about money” and income from the social care precept being levied by local councils is more than offset by the increased costs as a result of the National Living Wage.

He was local – Mr Johnson noted how this levy will place his city of Kingston-upon-Hull at a huge financial disadvantage. Because homes are not worth as much as properties in Kingston-upon-Thames, less money will be generated, even though greater levels of deprivation are to be found in East Yorkshire.

And he was ruthless – his exposé of Mr Javid, who left it to a grovelling junior minister to respond on his behalf, revealed the public’s growing contempt for the Communities Secretary who appears in denial about social care when he is not dismissing growing fears about how the imminent business rates increase will hit small firms.

On his appointment, Hull Council leader Steve Brady wrote to Mr Javid setting out issues of concern, including the impact of spending cuts on care services at a time when demand is rising.

To his credit, the Communities Secretary reciprocated and, on July 19, volunteered a meeting: “I would be pleased to meet you further in due course to discuss this further. My office will be in touch to arrange... a suitable time.”

Fine, but when this was chased up two months later, the Minister’s correspondence secretary emailed Coun Brady on September 22. I have seen the text of the response. It says: “Thank you for your letter to the Secretary of State.

“Unfortunately he is unable to meet at this time. As I am sure that you will understand at this time the diary is extremely pressured and the Secretary of State is regrettably unable to commit to a meeting.

“He has asked me to pass on his best wishes and apologies for any inconvenience that this will cause.”

Apologies? As Mr Johnson said: “This is at worst arrogant; at best, discourteous.” Others might have been less restrained.

In response, junior minister Marcus Jones did agree to meet Hull Council’s chief executive Matt Jukes, and Mr Javid was shamed into a meeting when questioned by the Hull North MP in the Commons. “I am more than happy to meet – in fact, I contacted Hull City Council only today to offer a meeting,” said the embarrassed minister.

Sorry, the reputational damage is already done. A creaking care system is having serious repercussions for the NHS because medically-fit patients cannot be discharged promptly into the community.

It will only become more challenging due to an ageing population. Yet, when the Government’s financial calculations are so at odds with those of local authorities like Hull where 27 per cent of the population have long-term health needs, according to Mr Johnson, the Communities Secretary’s ‘head in the sand’ approach should not suffice.

Too nice, and too unambitious, to become Labour leader instead of, or in place of, Gordon Brown at the end of the Tony Blair era, Alan Johnson has always worked with opponents, notably his neighbouring Tory MP – and Brexit Secretary – David Davis over BAE defence jobs in Brough.

He knows the issue. Orphaned as a child, and brought up by his sister, he is one of the best Prime Ministers that this country has never had. He knows the challenges. And, with hindsight, he now knows how to better handle the mechanisms of government.

His experience must be utilised. If not by Labour, then Theresa May should start finding roles for the political conciliators on both sides of the House of Commons – and preferably at the expense of hard-hearted ministers like Sajid Javid, the self-made son of an immigrant bus driver, who appears to have forgotten what it is like to be poor, or vulnerable, in today’s Britain.