"Nine words in the Queen’s Speech isn’t good enough – we need a proper plan to fix the crisis in social care." Cllr Chris Best - Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care
On his first day as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street and promised to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all”, with a clear plan he had already prepared. Yet nearly three years on, there is still no sign of that plan. The usual Boris bluster has been followed by dither and delay from the Tories.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of our adult social care system and the crucial role it plays in supporting some of the most vulnerable people in our society. But despite a commitment from the Prime Minister in January that the Government would finally bring forward its long-awaited plans for social care later this year, it was afforded just nine words in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month.
If the Tories won’t bother to make social care a priority, it’s up to us as the Labour Party to keep the pressure up and continue campaigning for a plan to address the huge challenges the sector faces. In April, I coordinated a cross-party letter to Matt Hancock, signed by 23 adult social care leads from Councils across London, demanding that the Government take urgent action to fix the crisis in social care.
After eleven years of Tory austerity and cuts to council budgets from central government, local authority spending on adult social care has shrunk by 7% per person over the past decade, forcing councils to tighten eligibility thresholds and make cuts to adult social care services. The Government’s response has been to paper over the cracks with the Better Care Fund and adult social care precept, forcing local authorities to raise Council Tax and placing the burden on local residents. This approach isn’t fair or sustainable.
We desperately need a long-term funding solution that gives councils and care providers certainty in order to plan for the future, with sufficient funding to ensure people receive care on the basis of need, rather than ability to pay. We also need action to prevent excessive life-time care costs, so that those who are not eligible for publicly-funded care are not left with unmanageable financial burdens.
As Liz Kendall, Shadow Social Care Minister, highlighted in her recent speech to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, we saw throughout the pandemic that social care is still not funded or treated as equally important as the NHS. That’s why it’s vital that any plans for reform of social care seek to place health and social care on a more equal footing in terms of funding, resources and recognition.
Improving the pay and conditions of care workers must also be a central component of social care reform. The Conservatives will happily clap for carers, but when it comes to ensuring they are properly rewarded for their work, they simply refuse to listen. Our carers have been instrumental in getting us through the pandemic, yet they are some of the lowest paid workers in the country, with the vast majority of them women and many from Black and Ethnic Minority communities.
As the Future Social Care Coalition has highlighted, there has never been a more urgent time for the Government to back a fair deal for under-valued social care workers – the forgotten frontline of the pandemic – and help recruit the staff we will need to cope with growing demand in the years ahead.
Labour has already called for the Government to guarantee all care workers a Real Living Wage of £10 an hour, as well as making sure unpaid carers are properly supported in looking after their loved ones. In Lewisham, the Council is proud to be signatories of the UNISON Ethical Care Charter, committing us to paying the London Living Wage and ensuring our carers enjoy good quality working conditions. We recognise the vital role our carers play in supporting the most vulnerable in our society – so why don’t the Tories?
If Boris Johnson is serious about fixing the crisis in social care, he needs to stop stalling and bring forward a proper plan for reform that delivers a fair and sustainable funding regime, ensures people can access the care they need, and improves pay and working conditions for frontline care staff.
Nine words in the Queen’s Speech isn’t good enough – it’s time for the Government to take action.