We are all agreed that adult social care is in dire need of reform, but we are torn by the need to make tough decisions whilst offering a fair and effective care system. Our society is one that is rapidly ageing; one in three people in the UK is over 50 and the numbers are rising. There are now more people over 65 than over 16. So why are provisions for a dignified retirement are falling significantly short?
The last Labour government proposed a cap which was instantly derided by the opposition and widely criticised in the public sphere. Why should older people who have worked hard – and saved harder – then made to pay for their own care? The idea was killed before it had even begun to take shape.
Since then, Labour has failed to put the issue back at the top of the agenda. Adult social care might feel like a minefield to approach, but it is an issue which Labour must lead the charge on. If we really are Ed Miliband’s vision of the “One Nation” party then we need to offer proposals that speak to, and address, the concerns of everyone – and not the few. A recent poll conducted by Age UK (2012) found one in four people now consider care for older people the most important issue that will sway their vote, behind only the NHS and the economy.
Now, the same ideas put forward by Labour during its last days are back, only this time, by the same politicians who derided us. Though there were many issues with Labour’s initial proposals, at least it was an honest attempt to address the ticking time bomb that is adult social care. With this government however – made up of many who in old age wouldn’t look twice at public sector care – it just feels as if proposals have been put on the table with the intention of making a problem go away. This Tory-led government back a reform which will see many forced to sell their homes or live in poverty after a lifetime of hard work; this is the same Government led by a man who declared at his party conference that he is here to spread the privilege, not defend it – well, his care policy says a lot about his commitment to that statement.
Labour must seize this and show the electorate that we are the party who truly stands up for everyone. We must show that we can capture the momentum and the frustrations of our society, not just of older people but those of their children too, the ones caught in a double-care trap, where they find themselves the primary carers of their parents as well as their own families; their priorities should be our priorities.
So what can Labour do? We can get behind the campaign for better, more responsible, adult social care. We should bring it to the forefront of our rhetoric, make it prominent in our policy review and ensure that it will feature heavily in our manifesto. Older people deserve a fair deal and Labour should be the key brokers in this by demand a fair and socially just package not just for them, but their families too. By offering older people real alternatives to the pick and mix care system, the Labour Party as a progressive political force can ensure a secure old age for all people and avoid the travesty of adult social care.