By Sue Regan
The state of social care affects us all – whether because we need care ourselves, provide care to others or help fund care through taxes and with society getting older and those people most likely to vote it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that all the main parties need to take this seriously.
Since 2007, there have been more people over retirement age than children, and medical advances mean that disabled people are living longer. All to be celebrated, but it means increasing pressures on an already creaking care system.
How well we provide care and support to people who need it, because of old age or disability, is surely a key test of a good society. For too long, poor care services and lack of funding have failed many of our most vulnerable people.
This week’s social care Green Paper is an opportunity to address this. It proposes a National Care Service which aims to combine national entitlements with local service delivery, and suggests a number of options for reforming funding. The Government’s vision is to create a care system that is fair, simple and affordable. The reforms seek to end the post code lottery of care, resulting from wide variations in standards and quantity of care offered across the country.
Currently, low earners on below average incomes are particularly badly affected – often excluded from any help because of modest assets, yet unable to afford care costs.
Low earners are an electoral force not to be dismissed. In 1997, low earners made up the core of the Labour vote. In 2009, low earners overall now say they are more likely to vote Conservative. The Government’s proposals, by providing a universal minimum entitlement and access to support and advice, would benefit all low earners. This message needs to get across loud and clear.
Alongside the Green Paper, the Government launched a Big Care Debate. This issue is too important to discuss behind closed doors and everyone should be encouraged to have their say. The ageing voting profile makes this a key election issue. The scale of the challenge, and how each party responds, could also make it a key political dividing line.
The Green Paper is only one further step on a long journey. Public and political debate is needed to build momentum and to prevent social care reform becoming a victim of the economic crisis, as attention turns elsewhere. The Government’s vision will remain only that unless further progress is made. An early White Paper and a clear, high-profile manifesto commitment are both critical.
Creating a National Care Service fit for all – surely even in an era of difficult choices, this is an ambition we can and must all share.
Sue Regan is Chief Executive of the Resolution Foundation which works to improve outcomes for low earners.