Care a key election priority

Written By: Tribune Editorial
Published: April 21, 2017 Last modified: April 21, 2017

Theresa May has proven once again that the Tories can’t be trusted …on anything. The prime minister reiterated several times that she would not call an early election, then without any shame on her face did the obvious.

Her about-face was nothing to do with principle, and everything to do with a 21-point lead in the opinion polls and a wafer-thin Commons majority which allows potential Tory rebels – on Brexit and a host of other issues – to punch well above their weight. The June 8 general election has been called because of the perceived Tory wisdom that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is going down the electoral pan, and there are many in the Labour ranks who agree with her.

But, the idea that she can achieve any sort of Blair-style landslide is bananas. With Scotland out of the frame for both main parties, and with the present slim govern­ment majority only achieved in 2015 at the expense of their coalition partners in the Lib Dems, times really have changed. That is not to say, of course, that there will be a change of government six weeks hence. The odds remain stacked against that. But Jeremy Corbyn is right to point out that the May administration is vulnerable not just on the issue of hard or soft Brexit, but on such bread-and-butter issues as health, schools and housing.

To which Tribune would add a fourth, obvious, priority for the Opposition’s team in both the May local council contests and the big one a month later. If anything more is needed to nail the Tory lie that the Tory government is working for everyone, the growing North-South Divide in the quality of council-run old folks’ homes provides it.

The latest report by the Care Quality Commission shows that in 19 English areas more than 40 per cent of such homes were rated “inadequate” or “requires improvement”. Fifteen of those are in the North of England, and in Stockport and Salford the rate is over 60 per cent. By contrast, In most areas of London and the South such poor ratings apply to less than 10 per cent of homes, whereas in posh Islington it is zero.

The fault is almost always down to the Tory squeeze on local authority budgets which – surprise, surprise – impact hardest in the North while the Conservative Home Counties are feather-bedded. Put simply, Theresa May is protecting social care budgets at the expense of the rest of us. Can anyone think of anything more callous and cynical, particularly when those suffering most are the most vulnerable? The current crisis in social care, particularly for the elderly, is driven by overall cuts to council budgets since 2010. And it is reaching breaking point.

The government has now been warned that the social care system is on the verge of “collapse” as more than 900 adult social care workers a day quit their job in England last year. Growing staff shortages mean vulnerable people are receiving poorer levels of care at a time when an ageing population means demand is increasing forl care services.

Data from the charity Skills for Care shows that in 2015-16 there were more than 1.3 million people employed in the adult social care sector, but an estimated 338,520 have left since then. The reasons are clear: frontline care workers earned on average £14,800 a year compared to the UK average of £27,600 for full time workers. One in every four were on zero-hours contract and the pressures on them are growing daily because of an estimated shortage of 84,320 care workers, with around one in every 20 care roles vacant. The figures show that social care providers are struggling to retain their staff, with the industry having a staff turnover rate of 27% – nearly twice the average for other professions in the UK.

The government has recently committed to spending an extra £2 billion on social care, and allowed local authorities to raise council tax bills to pay for that. Which is scratching at the surface as the number of people aged over 75 is expected to double by the year 2040, according to the Office for National Statistics.

In a letter to Theresa May, UK Homecare Association chair Mike Padgham said: “My biggest fear is that we will soon run out of capacity to provide care to those who cannot fund themselves. I agree wholeheartedly with warnings that the social care system will begin to collapse this year, but I would go further and say that the system has already begun to collapse.”