Social Care Foundation Square

Time for politicians to take the brave pills – we still desperately need social care reform

AS EACH of the main parties at Westminster prepare for a tough general election campaign in 2024, troubled memories still remain fresh of the time social care became a truly totemic general election issue in 2017.

Theresa May’s so-called ‘Dementia Tax’, designed to increase personal contributions for old age care, was proposed as an ambitious plan to allow the prime minister to grasp the nettle of resourcing services properly through bold reform. The subsequent opposition, media and voter backlash that ultimately played a part in depriving Mrs May of a substantial majority in the House of Commons, still haunts would-be reformers.

The political stakes of social care reform being so high only helps illustrate the scale of the challenge the sector still faces over half a decade later. Policymakers are right to remain wary of simple, catch-all solutions, but they’re wrong to shy away for fear of voter unpopularity.

Ultimately, social care is just too important to ignore. First and foremost, we owe it to the vulnerable service users to enable them to live what the Parliamentary Adult Social Care Committee last year called “gloriously ordinary lives” of dignity and safety.

Enabling this to happen will also free up more families from the burden of caring full-time for loved ones and help unblock much-needed bed space from similarly stretched NHS services. Moreover, in England alone it would drastically improve conditions for more than 1.6 million people working in the adult social care sector. The rest of the UK is no different in this respect.

For too long this huge workforce – larger than the NHS – has constituted a forgotten ‘Cinderella service’, let down badly by systems that routinely undervalue them. I opened my first care home in Scotland in May 1989 when I founded Four Seasons Health Care. In my 34 years in the sector, I have never been prouder than I am now of the brilliant, brave, dedicated people who make the impossible happen on a daily basis.

When the pandemic struck in early 2020 our social care staff were the selfless first and last lines of defence between our loved ones and the Covid ripping through care homes. I think politicians understand the debt we owe them and still do. That debt should be repaid by ending the slow degradation of services that currently sees more care homes closing across the UK each week.

It’s high time we repaid that debt through change.

We urgently need both a ten-year staffing and funding plan for social care. The solutions won’t be simple, eye-catching manifesto-friendly packages. Instead, they will involve leadership, collaboration, efficiency and deep engagement with service users, families and every layer of the social care workforce.  Simply ignoring the problem will no longer do. I firmly believe, however, that if we all work hard together to get the mix right, the economic and social rewards for millions of people across the UK will be well worth the wait.

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Photo courtesy of the Social Care Foundation.


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