If the current government cannot fix the social care crisis, then the next Labour government will
Plans for the future of social care need to be ready as soon as possible, writes Barbara Keeley
This autumn could prove to be a pivotal moment for the future of the social care system, which is constantly teetering on the brink of crisis.
Councils, care providers, charities and the families of cared-for people are looking ahead expectantly to the government’s promised social care Green Paper, with most hoping it will bring an urgent resolution to the social care crisis.
I fear they may be disappointed, as the government continues to duck the decisions that need to be taken to fix the social care system including providing a much-needed injection of funding.
Launching a Green Paper has allowed the government simply to kick the urgent issue of rescuing our social care system into the long grass instead of grasping the nettle. The need for action has never been more urgent
Many councils, who spend a large proportion of their budgets on delivering social care, are in the grip of serious financial problems. Earlier this month, Somerset Council revealed it was making emergency cuts to stave off bankruptcy, a fate which has already befallen Northamptonshire council.
Councils have had their budgets cut by an average of 40 per cent over the last eight years, and that has seen over £7bn drained from social care funding, reducing the amount of care they can provide.
This means that 400,000 fewer people are now getting publicly-funded care than in 2010. 1.4 million older people who need care do not get the support they need to carry out basic tasks.
Meanwhile, more and more care providers are dropping out of the largely-outsourced social care system because they cannot provide the care they want to provide on the sums allocated to the sector. It makes it that much harder for councils to find care places for vulnerable people.
And the quality of services is often too low. A fifth of care facilities across the country are rated as either inadequate or requiring improvement, with worrying areas of poor quality in certain parts of the country. According to Labour’s own research, 3,000 care providers persistently received the lowest standards after inspection.
The simple truth is that care staff are dedicated but too many are overworked and underpaid. Many work on zero hours contracts, and they find they cannot keep up with demand for care. They have too little support and too little time to deliver the care they want to give.
The impact of all this is that some of society’s most vulnerable people are not getting the care they need to live with dignity: failing to get adequate help with washing, going to the toilet or taking medication, among other daily activities. It is an outrage that the needs of so many people in need of help with the basic tasks that we take for granted are being continually ignored by this government.
Tories appear concerned only with avoiding a similar controversy to their 2017 General Election manifesto proposals, dubbed a ‘dementia tax’, not with stopping the immediate crisis facing thousands of people who need care across the country.
Labour’s approach is clear: we pledged an additional £8bn across this Parliament, with £1bn invested in the first year. This would help to lift quality, by paying all care staff the real living wage, and help to increase access to social care by offering more publicly-funded care packages. This is crucial if we are to begin to ease the crisis and re-establish confidence in the care system.
But we recognise that we need to move from our broken system of care to a sustainable service for the long term. That is why this autumn is an important moment for the Labour Party too, as we seek to set out what our future National Care Service will look like.
Party Conference will give members the opportunity to engage with some of the new ideas which are emerging on different ways of commissioning and delivering social care, not just ideas about funding.
Given the likelihood of another general election, plans for the future of social care need to be ready as soon as possible.
Because, if the current government cannot fix the social care crisis, then the next Labour government will.
Barbara Keeley is Labour MP for Worsley and Eccles South and Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Social Care
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.