Labour is missing an open goal on social care

Published by The Times (8th September, 2021)

Could there be a bigger open goal for an opposition party? A prime minister who won power by luring disgruntled northern voters into a new alliance breaks a key manifesto promise by pushing up personal taxes. His move is made largely to protect prosperous homeowners from the rising costs of residential care in old age, yet fails to meet his pledge to sort a broken social care system “once and for all”.

The pandemic exposed care sector flaws, sometimes with fatal consequences. Yet Boris Johnson has simply confirmed its Cinderella status as the sacred NHS soaks up the bulk of the extra billions over the next few years. There was no real action to drive up wages for carers, tackle the catastrophic staffing crisis, rein in profiteering companies, sort out dysfunctional markets or boost community care services.

This announcement was a small first step, not a serious fix. We must live in hope for another white paper to tackle systemic flaws. Disappointment is made worse watching Labour’s leadership miss that gaping open goal. Sadly, this is symbolic of a party so shackled by its history, divisions and timidity that it is failing to define its values, let alone offer any alluring alternative.

Think of all the fertile issues here for a Labour opposition: broken political promises, families failed by the state, low-paid public servants working on the front line but living on the bread line, generational inequality, past Tory cuts to critical services, hollowing out of local government. Brexit intensified staff shortfalls. There are even villainous fat cats milking the system and stashing profits behind opaque corporate structures in offshore tax havens.

But Labour’s credibility is wrecked when, after so much debate on social care over so many years, it has no alternative solution beyond bluster about coming up with a plan by the next election. It opposes a tax rise for health and social care that is fairer, with its lack of age cap, than one it introduced in 2002 for a similar purpose — yet cannot tell us of a better solution.

This is bad politics. Such vapidity lets Johnson shrug off deserved criticism and corrodes faith in Westminster, especially when tribal games have stymied reform for so long. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Jacob Rees-Mogg believe it is anomalous that social care is not funded by central taxation. Yet Sir Keir Starmer, who understands the issues, accuses the Tories of losing their status as a low-tax party.

If Labour has nothing to say on social care, what is the point of their party?

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