If they did, they would see the societal and economic impact of our failure to achieve progress in key policy areas, in particular social care reform – one of the most pressing issues of our time. The government promised a social care green paper some months ago. Despite a mention of it yesterday by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, there is no set date for it to be published. It has slipped off the domestic agenda as Brexit and political party in-fighting dominate. Even during party conference season, social care has been little more than an afterthought.
And yet the social care system is collapsing around us. The majority of the public wish to live, to be cared for and to die in their own homes. The simple truth is that at present, this is not possible.
Since the national minimum wage was raised, many local authorities have been unable to afford the hourly fees charged by home care agencies. As a result, some care providers are leaving public provision. Even the additional £2bn provided last year by the chancellor and the provision of an extra £240m yesterday is not enough to save the system from disaster. At the same time, there is a growing shortage of carers in a profession already devastated by high levels of attrition. It’s predicted that by 2025, the care worker deficit will have grown to more than 600,000. To add to this perfect storm are findings such as those of the study published this week that suggested a third of men and half of women aged 45 will go on to have dementia, Parkinson’s or a stroke.
We need to see the long-awaited green paper – but more importantly, it must contain bold solutions that match the scale of the problem we face as a society. I’m CEO of SuperCarers, an online platform that helps families find the best care for the people they love. Our services help to introduce people to carers, and we’re not motivated simply by commercial objectives – we believe that there is a desperate need for reform to a system that is not fit for purpose.
There are several steps we would like to see the government take. First, we need to see carers treated with the respect they deserve. For too long, carers have been treated as an unskilled workforce. They are among the most dedicated, principled and passionate public servants we have. I believe we should treat care workers as we treat some teachers, and as we formerly treated nurses – with tax-free bursaries to train.
Second, care needs greater levels of funding. Cross-party resolve is needed to increase national insurance, with the specific purpose of paying for elderly care. This increase could go to cash-strapped local councils, raising the minimum threshold for personally funded care.
We need workplace-based support to reflect society’s changing demographics. Childcare vouchers were introduced in the 1980s to support working parents – the reality in the 2010s is that more and more adults are providing their own parents’ care, financially or personally. We want to see the introduction of elderly care vouchers, funded through a pre-tax salary sacrifice. Without adequate assistance, we will see more and more people – in the main, women – leaving the workforce to be unpaid carers.
Finally, at SuperCarers we are advocating for a Royal College of Care Workers. Royal colleges exist for a range of professions, from nurses to veterinarians. Yet there is none to protect care workers – or to reflect the service they provide in the interests of the public. Currently, poorly paid and poorly treated care workers are leaving the profession in droves. Many care workers come from overseas, and we don’t yet know what impact post-Brexit immigration policies will have on the ability of care workers to secure visas and work in the UK.
We need swift and coherent action to support care workers, and to reflect the vital importance of care work to today’s society. A Royal College of Care Workers would be a good start.