General Elections are rightly fought on the government’s record of achievement. There are many things that in theory should be above politics – I won’t start a list as it will distract from the main point – which is that elderly social care must be one of the failures on which Labour should be held to account.
Labour came to power in 1997 with Frank Dobson, the then SoS for Health saying that the situation couldn’t carry it on as it was. Lord Sutherland was tasked with heading a commission to come up with an new plan. He did in 1999, but he was being briefed against even before it was published and it was duly shelved in England (whereas the Scots implemented the recommendation to provide free care at home) and no alternatives werepursued. The subject has of course been reviewed regularly, notably by Wanless, who was also ignored. No remodelling has meant elderly people had their care withdrawn because they no longer satisfied ‘critical’ or ‘substantial’ criteria and others have had to sell their homes.
As has often been said, how a nation treats their elderly is measure of its civilisation. Any elderly person will tell you that growing old is a massive adjustment, all the more so now as our expectations of comfort and relief, and our knowledge of what care is possible are that much higher. However the anxieties that many elderly people are experiencing areunacceptable. I have had elderly patients weeping uncontrollable tears as they have told of care services being withdrawn – not being able to have a bath or to sit down with a cup of tea (because you are too wobbly to carry it) doesn’t sound like much until you imagine never being able to do these things again.
The Tories have a suggested an optional insurance of £8k, which I imagine it should be possible to add to a mortgage, and would ensure homes don’t have to be sold to pay for care. But for non-home owners the funding will still have to be foundand I believe it is right that we make this a funding priority. The Lib Dems plans are still vague and giving carers time off is already enabled by many existing charities. As I argue in the 2020health manifesto coming out next week, there are many ways we should be tackling the unreasonable demands made on the NHS which would translate into savings. Whether by appealing to people’s altruism today or their self-interest for tomorrow, the case forimproved funding for elderly care must be made.