Well, Mr Johnson? We’re all waiting
This time last year, our editorial addressed the persistent and growing crisis in both residential and domiciliary adult social care in England. We expressed the fervent hope that the fabled Green Paper, so long delayed, would eventually appear and the government, local authorities, providers and investors would be able to sit down and thrash out a solution to allow our burgeoning older population to look forward to a dignified later life free of anxiety and confusion over who would foot the bill.
Perhaps that was too much to expect. Twelve months of political and societal turmoil unseen in generations meant that even relatively minor policy decisions were left in the long grass. Something as significant and with such potential for political toxicity as social care reform was seen by the Conservative government as the equivalent of Superman’s relationship with kryptonite, to be avoided at all costs.
But, with the general election delivering, in the dying days of 2019, an unassailable Tory majority, the situation is now very different. Boris Johnson and his cohort of newly-minted MPs have no excuse to dodge the issue any longer. The time is now and, let’s be clear, things couldn’t be much worse.
Age UK estimates that 1.4 million people who need assistance with washing, dressing and going to the lavatory are not getting the help they need and 10% of the over 65s will generate lifetime care costs in excess of £100,000. Meanwhile tens of thousands die each year waiting for a care package to be arranged by cash-strapped local authorities reeling from years of austerity-induced funding deficits.
The dire state of workforce recruitment and retention is adding further strain. It is estimated that an extra 580,000 social care workers will be needed to meet growing demand and that doesn’t take into account the current 120,000 vacancies already in place.
In this magazine we have reported on countless calls from all quarters to tackle the social care crisis and investors and operators across the sector routinely offer innovative and exciting solutions to care provision and staffing challenges.
On pages 30-33, our senior reporter Jenna Lomax reviews the landscape and talks to leaders in the field. There is no shortage of enthusiasm to engage with the many problems that face us, but concrete proposals from the government on how we fund the care so needed by so many in our society are now essential.
True to type, Mr Johnson is big on vague optimism and short on detail. Speaking in the House of Commons last month, he told MPs that ministers had “a fantastic plan” to reform social care but no one, including the Downing Street press office, seems to have any idea what this entails other than the promise of cross-party talks at an unspecified date. One wonders how far this will take us given the broad consensus that already exists across the political spectrum on the need for urgent action.
In the past 20 years, we have seen five independent commissions, four White Papers and two Green Papers on social care reform. The time for talking is over.
Meaningful change will not take place unless the politicians who now very much have the upper hand commit to and deliver a programme of radical reform. Like all change, it will be unpopular in one quarter or another, but that it is the price to be paid if we are to move forward.
Mr Johnson and his colleagues at the Treasury and the Department of Health and Social Care have a unique opportunity to make a positive contribution to the lives of UK citizens that will be remembered for generations. Whether they decide to choose strong, affirmative action over political expediency and obfuscation remains to be seen. What is certain is that there is no longer anywhere to hide or other people to blame for the continuing calamitous state of social care.
It is time to deliver.