Since Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Brexit is the only thing on the political agenda. Defence? Nah, not that important. Education? Yeah, maybe one day. Social care? Well – who cares?
It’s a question I ask only half in jest. Despite the funding black hole that we’re all familiar with, British politicians are failing to take the issue seriously. Theresa May made an attempt at in 2017 but you could tell she wasn’t all that serious. After all, somebody who was serious would surely have thought about the issue in greater detail before proposing the, now infamous, ‘dementia tax’.
We struggle to think seriously about this issue because of what it represents. Rather than a black-and-white discussion about, say, cancer treatments, the question of social care makes us feel uncomfortable.
It makes us feel uncomfortable because what we’re really talking about is that day, whenever that day may come, when we'll need support with what we now consider to be basic tasks. The day when we'll need help with a personal form of care that, at the minute, we can do completely independently.
In other words, talking about social care means talking about when we’ll be at our most vulnerable. And that scares us.
So, what do we do? We do what the human race has always done when it thinks about things that scare us. We ignore it. We don’t seriously engage with a conversation about what we want that care to look like, and how it should be funded. We bury our head in the sand, and pretend it isn’t happening.
Quite simply, that isn’t good enough. In fact, it’s an infantile excuse that allows us to ignore the real suffering of individuals in our society. Take, for instance, the story of Atherton, whose savings have to cover the cost of fees incurred by his dementia care. Soon, his wife worries, those savings will disappear. Then what?
Or how about Lesley, who tells us about the struggle to find the support she needs to assist with her sister’s care? Or maybe we should think about the 1 in 5 people who told the Care and Support Alliance that they’ve gone without meals because of a lack of care and support. And let's consider the people, over a third in fact, who told the same report ‘that they have felt lonely and isolated because of a lack of support.’
Describing this as a crisis doesn’t even begin to scrape the surface of what’s going on here. It’s a national disgrace, and should be a source of shame for politicians who have sat in Westminster for years, and done nothing of substance to confront it.
With the country being in the grip of an election, you might think that the political parties are giving us hope for the way forward. I so wish that was the truth but, as we’ve all come to expect over the past few years, it couldn’t be further from it.
Let’s start with the Tories. Probably as a result of May’s pathetic showing in 2017, the Tory manifesto has pretty much ignored the issue entirely. All Johnson has to offer is a vague pledge that nobody will have to sell their home to afford their care but, um, that’s about it. It’s ambitious, but only in terms of how utterly vacuous it is.
On the opposite end of the fence, Labour promise to build a National Social Care Service. A nice idea, almost getting close to what could be a solution, but Corbyn has, thus far, offered very little detail on how that’d work. And how would it be funded? To be polite, I won't go there.
Labour also promise to provide free personal care. The problem? They say they’d initially begin this policy with the elderly, which ignores the very basic fact that any one of us may require assistance with personal cares. To start with one group seems to me to be a rather unambitious goal for a project that positions itself as a national provider of social care, from a Party that claims to be ‘for the many.’
I don’t profess to have all of the answers. In fact, I don’t profess to have very many at all, but I hasten to add that’s sort of the point. No single person living in the UK has all of the answers but, together, we can figure it out. I propose that maybe, just maybe, politicians could start by listening to the people who are suffering as a result of the current, out-of-step, system. Shocking concept, I know.
I also, rather modestly, propose that we stop presuming that vulnerable people should be put into some form of care home, and forgotten about. Social care is about more than just helping somebody wash, dress, and cook. When we phrase the process like that, we forget the social part of the equation. The part that satisfies the needs that we all have: to feel connected, to feel engaged and, above all, to feel wanted.
Why not investigate how we can adapt our towns and cities in such a way that makes them more appropriate for those with physical and cognitive difficulties? Why not promote the idea of communities rigorously engaging with care facilities in their local area? Whilst we're at it, why not start talking openly and honestly about how thinking about this stuff is actually, you know, a bit scary?
Like I say, I don’t have all the answers. But, unlike our self-aggrandised politicians, I don’t pretend that I do.