It’s nearly two years since Boris Johnson stood on the steps of Downing Street and set out his ambition as prime minister to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all”. Yet, today we are still wondering what his “oven-ready” plan is and whether it will truly address the devastating unmet needs and unfairness within our social care system.
It’s clear that we all want a social care system that can support our loved ones and be there for us too if we develop a life-changing physical or mental health condition, or need extra help in old age. Four in five members of the general public want the prime minister to fulfill his social care pledge, according to a YouGov poll released today.
That’s why I, along with over 75 other organisations in the Care and Support Alliance, urge the prime minister to keep his promise and act now to fix social care for everyone – older people, disabled people, their carers and care workers.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on the millions of people and their families who rely on social care. Older and disabled people who receive social care support died at higher rates of Covid-19 because a protective ring wasn’t thrown around social care at the start of the pandemic.
Disabled people had their vital support slashed when they needed it most, leaving people with increasing support needs and poor mental health. Family carers have been left to pick up the pieces, in some cases providing 24/7 care without any help or breaks.
One family, who contacted Mencap and whose 22-year-old son has a profound and multiple learning disabilities, are entitled to 52 days of respite a year. Yet so far this year, they have had just three. The family are absolutely exhausted from caring round-the-clock and are worried sick that the local council will say they have coped and make a permanent cut to their support.
They are not the only family who are still struggling without help. As restrictions ease, over half of people with a learning disability have still not had their support fully reinstated, and for one in six their support has completely stopped. It’s no wonder that most families are worried about further cuts to their loved one’s care package after the pandemic.
Social care has long been the poor relative to the NHS – it has been under-resourced and under-funded for decades. As our population has grown, so has our country’s social care needs, yet local councils have been forced to make £7.7bn of savings from their social care budgets between 2010 and the onset of the pandemic.
These budget squeezes have a direct impact on the people who need care. In some cases, an hour extra of support is the difference between a care worker having time to empower someone to take part in a community activity or travel to work, rather than helping someone to get up and dressed only for them to be stuck at home alone.
Social care costs have risen due to infection control measures like PPE and social distancing, and local councils are now facing even larger black holes in their budgets. It’s clear that the social care system is at breaking point and doing nothing is no longer an option for the government.
But the prime minister must think big and grasp this once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix social care for all. He must not forget that it isn’t just older people living in care homes who need care. Almost one in five long-term social care recipients have a learning disability.
A cap on costs to stop older people from having to sell their own homes when they move into a care home is a quick fix that only addresses one part of the problem – and narrow reforms will only end up coming back to bite the government down the road.
When we get care right for people with learning disabilities, it opens opportunities up for them, their families and wider society. Social care helps people with learning disabilities learn vital life skills, gain confidence and build their independence. It helps them live their lives to the full and take an active role in society – whether through voluntary work, supporting their local community or paid employment. It also frees family carers from the shackles of unpaid care with no time off.
The more our social care system has the resources to step up to meet people’s needs, the fewer pressures there will be on the NHS. There would be no need for thousands of people with a learning disability and/or autism to be stuck in expensive mental health hospitals because they cannot get the support they need at home.
Investing more in social care will not only save money, but also help boost our wider economy. Our vastly under-resourced system already contributes around £41bn to the economy in England every year, just think what it could bring if we invested in it properly?
It’s more urgent now than ever that the prime minister keeps his promise and fixes the social care crisis, but he must not forget people with a learning disability in his reforms. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform lives and social care for all.
When so many previous governments have failed, wouldn’t the creation of a world-class social care system we can all be proud of be an incredible legacy?
Jackie O’Sullivan, Co-chair of the Care and Support Alliance and Executive Director of Communications, Advocacy and Activism at the learning disability charity Mencap
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