Social care has been unloved and poorly funded for too long

Published by The Times (4th July, 2023)

My daughter is lovely. She has learning disabilities and a life-threatening health condition, however, so my family is reliant on a team of carers. This is extremely challenging. We have survived thanks to wonderful support, including from many foreign staff. But in recent years the struggle has become harder due to a dearth of recruits.

Everyone involved with social care knows recruitment is a nightmare. Meanwhile, demand for support is rising, especially among working-age adults, but fewer people receive care due to inadequate funding. This wrecks lives for families desperately in need of help. And it impacts badly on the National Health Service when beds are blocked by patients without care packages.

This crisis is a symptom of our unloved and underfunded care system. Successive governments pumped cash into the sacred NHS but ignored its Cinderella cousin. Most care is funded by local authorities, which were savaged in austerity. Matters are made worse by fat-cat firms creaming off millions as they load up debt, focus on wealthier areas and stuff people into ever-larger institutions.

Brexit intensified this staff crisis, driving away precious eastern Europeans. Then came Covid, cruelly exposing Britain’s lack of concern for social care. Now there are widespread labour shortages. This leaves care vacancies at record levels, with about one in ten positions unfilled. Pay is a factor, yet even generously-paid jobs can go unfilled for months.

So it is mind-boggling to hear 25 “New Conservative” MPs suggest that the solution to this catastrophe — inflamed by their own party — is to shut down temporary schemes granting visas for care workers. They think these critical jobs underpinning millions of lives will be magically filled by Britons on bigger wages if foreigners are kept out.

It would help if these politicians knew even the basics, such as that social care is a distinct public service. South Yorkshire MP Miriam Cates, in a toe-curling interview with the BBC Today programme in which she confessed she had no idea how much care homes should pay staff, insisted that “lots of people coming from abroad” to do care work “don’t, by the way, necessarily stay in the NHS”.

The last thing this sector needs is a dose of shock therapy dreamt up by know-nothing numpties that ramps up the crisis. It needs more resources and better-paid workers. But above all it needs belated recognition of its immense societal value, rooted in compassion for the elderly and disabled citizens reliant on its support. Sadly, this day feels a long way off in a country too often devoid of care.

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