The Covid pandemic has brought to light what many of us have been arguing for years – that social care is in desperate need of reform and long-term investment. Eighteen months ago the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared” and yet, in the Queen’s Speech, the Government announced no such plan and no new funding.
Even before the virus struck, social care services were stretched to breaking point with a workforce that was undervalued and underpaid. Over the past ten years, the Conservatives have undermined the foundations of social care with an £8 billion cut from council care budgets, despite growing demand. Now, one in seven adults are unable to get the care they need.
These problems will become even more stark as increased life expectancy inevitably leads to further demand for care. 1 in 4 babies born today are set to live to 100 years old and, without a plan in place, the care system will not keep up. By refusing to provide a long-term strategy for social care, the Government is letting down the millions of people who receive care now and millions more will come to rely on it in the years ahead.
Boris Johnson is also failing the social care workforce, which is beset by low pay, insecurity and endemic stress. Social care has an over 30 per cent turnover rate for good reasons. Low pay is endemic, travel time is commonly unpaid, training is too often inadequate and the chance of developing skills and a career far too scarce. It is no surprise that on any given day there are 110,000 vacancies in the sector.
And yet the Government still seem to be indifferent to the serious problems with recruitment, professionalisation and investment that the social care sector faces. Despite the dedication of care workers, our social care system was more vulnerable to coronavirus than it ever should have been. The pandemic brutally exposed the underlying problems with our system of social care and the horrendous death tolls in our care homes must now be a catalyst for massive reform of the whole sector.
Post-Covid, tackling England’s social care crisis should be treated as an economic priority in the same way as fixing infrastructure such as the roads and railways. That’s why Labour is calling for a ten year plan of investment and reform, to transform support for older and disabled people.
In government, Labour would empower people to live independently for as long as possible, while giving care users and their families greater say and control. Labour’s priorities are for a care system that puts ‘home first’, by shifting support towards prevention and early help. We’d also link up health and social care services to deliver a properly integrated system, while transforming pay, training and working conditions for staff.
It is possible and, indeed, necessary to bring about these changes and overhaul our social care system. Doing so will improve life for millions of people – but it will require levels of ambition and action from Government which have so far been entirely lacking.