When she stood on the doorstep to number 10 just a few short months ago, Theresa May promised to govern for all and in particular to help the disadvantaged.
But her failure to follow that through and address the crisis in social care has prompted widespread condemnation. And it has left the rest of us wondering just what we have to do to make the Government listen and act on the current plight of care for some of those very disadvantaged and vulnerable citizens.
As I write, the government has recently announced that it is going to allow local councils to increase Council Tax to give them more to spend on social care. Whilst this would bring more money into the sector to pay for care, is it right that the burden falls squarely on council tax payers?
In more than 25 years in social care I have not known a level of anger and outrage, coming from all different people, organisations and political persuasions, as that which followed the Autumn Statement and its lack of action on social care.
It is not as though she and the Chancellor were not warned of the strength of feeling. For months prior to the Autumn Statement and right up until days before, a host of charities, providers and representative bodies, from the Care Quality Commission to ADASS to the King’s Fund, The Nuffield Trust and many, many more, were warning of the dire situation.
Social care and NHS care didn’t even warrant a mention in the Autumn Statement and like successive governments before, it seemed care of vulnerable older people had gone to the back of the queue.
The social care crisis is deepening and going beyond the predicted “tipping point” warned of by the Care Quality Commission in its most recent State of Care report. A quarter of care homes in the UK, some 5,000, are said to be in danger of going out of business. In 2015-16, the number of nursing homes fell from 4,697 to 4,633 – the first decline in five years. Between 2009 and 2015 the number of people receiving local authority-funded domiciliary care fell by 20% and providers are handing back “unsustainable” contracts.
Vanishing care system
By failing to address the anticipated £2.8bn funding gap in social care, the Government has guaranteed that the number of people going without care, currently 1m, will rocket, as more care homes close and homecare providers go under, or hand back contracts. And as social care vanishes, inevitably NHS care will buckle and break under the strain.
Neil Kinnock once said: “I warn you not to grow old”. And in 1997 Tony Blair said he didn’t want children to grow up in a country where the only way pensioners could get care was by selling their homes. In 2016 you are more likely than ever to have to sell your home to get care.
Twenty-plus years later, don’t those words haunt and shame us today.
Despite its shocking omission from the Autumn Statement, it isn’t too late to save social care and avert the inevitable crisis in healthcare that is hurtling towards us.
It is questionable whether allowing local authorities to increase Council Tax is really a long-term solution or just a short-term sticking plaster. And as I said at the outset, is it right that Council Tax-payers foot the bill, shouldn’t we be looking for a more sustainable, long-term solution?
Merging NHS and social care
Diverting funds into social care will save money for the NHS. It is obvious that looking after people, where they want to be cared for, in their own home or in care homes, is wholly better and less expensive than having them in costly hospital beds. Merging NHS and social care into a single department, preferably with its own Government minister, is long overdue. It has never made sense to have the two separate.
Using the independent sector more is another obvious solution. It has been proved time and time again that independent providers can deliver services more efficiently and cost-effectively than in-house teams. The independent sector also has the flexibility and flair to come up with new solutions as care needs and economic climates change, if only those in Government would listen.
At the same time we have to look at incentives to encourage people into social care, ways to get people to invest in existing care businesses and in setting up new ones. We cannot forget that whilst we worry about the marketplace contracting and people leaving the sector, demand is rising swiftly and we have, somehow, got to create an industry that will be there for generations to come.
That is the challenge ahead and that is why the need to get social care’s plight across to government is absolutely vital. And that is why we cannot allow 2016, with all its damage to the sector and shattered hopes, to be repeated in 2017.