Social care is a scandal that stains our nation

Published by The Times (5th July, 2019)

When politicians are in a pickle on an issue, they kick it into the long grass. So we have seen at least 17 white papers, green papers and state reviews of social-care funding over the past two decades. The present government, having lost its majority largely because of a bungled policy proposal on this issue, has delayed the latest green paper six times during its dismal tenure.

So much paper, so many words, so little action. Politicians talk of reaching across tribal boundaries but play sordid party politics with efforts to break the logjam. Now all we hear from the candidates bidding to be prime minister is more waffle while a spiralling crisis leaves families suffering agonies behind front doors. A fragmented, struggling system is breaking down. There are 1.4 million old people with unmet needs. Support for people with disabilities is being restricted. Access to care depends on wealth and where you live, not need — issues intensifying due to demographic pressures.

Listen to the debate and you might think this is simply about middle-class folks cashing in homes to fund elderly care. But this crisis goes far deeper. It is shrouded in hypocrisy as our health service is sanctified and stuffed with cash while social-care funding shrinks in real terms and support for despairing citizens dries up.

This is the impact of local authority budgets being cut deeper than those in Whitehall during austerity by a coalition government to deflect criticism. Now desperate calls for help from cash-strapped councils are surging, led by working-age adults. The means test has become meaner. Worst hit are those reliant on inadequate state support as the care market gravitates towards self-funders paying higher fees.

Now throw in Brexit. As the father of a daughter needing 24-hour care, I have seen the crucial flow of carers from Europe slow since 2016. There is talk of special dispensations for nurses but almost no mention of carers. Plans for migrant salary thresholds will make matters worse.

Behind the problem lies a simple but profound question: why should someone dying of dementia not be supported by the state like someone dying of cancer? The Lords economic affairs committee, which includes Tory and Labour former chancellors, has joined those of us highlighting this iniquity in a report demanding an urgent £8 billion investment, then extension of free personal care to all by 2025. Jeremy Hunt promises that delayed green paper within 100 days if made Tory leader. But whoever leads the next government should forget about talking shops or delaying tactics. Just act to end a scandal that stains our nation.

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