Labour must insist that social care is a priority

4th January, 2012 10:35 am

Social care debates have not had the time in Parliament that the issues warrant. The Dilnot Commission delivered its report on the future funding of social care in July 2011. The report raised substantial and important issues about the priority we should give to social care funding in future. However, since the report was published there has only been a single three hour debate on social care funding. This was in backbench time in Westminster Hall with no debates in the main chamber or in Government time.

Now a coalition of sixty experts and leaders of charities involved in care are urging party leaders to look urgently at the reform of social care. They urge party leaders to deliver a system that can provide “well-funded and high-quality care and support”.

It is very clear that our social care system is failing badly. There are high levels of unmet need with an estimated 800,000 older people being left without basic care and “lonely, isolated and at risk”. As well as this frightening level of unmet need, a number of reports in 2011 also gave rise to anger and concern about the low standards of care currently being delivered.  A BBC Panorama investigation reported the terrible abuses in care at Winterbourne View, which resulted in eleven people being arrested for assault or mistreatment at the care home.

The care of 31,000 older people hung in the balance while the ownership of 752 Southern Cross care homes changed hands. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Care has reported more than £1 billion of cuts to adult social care budgets in 2011-12. A number of local authorities faced judicial reviews on their budget cuts when frail older people and people with disabilities were faced with losing essential packages of care.

Most recently, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission’s report “Close to Home” showed serious shortcomings in care services at home often amounting to abuse, loss of dignity, harassment and failing to meet the basic rights and needs of those needing care.

Social Care is an important issue both in terms of the pressing need for reform and because of the number of those involved in and affected by social care. It has a paid workforce of 1.6 million people – more staff than work in the NHS. In addition the majority of care is being delivered by 6.4 million unpaid family carers, many of whom have been forced to give up work to care for older or disabled relatives.

After six months delay, the Government has finally responded to Labour’s invitation to hold cross-party talks on the future funding of social care. These funding issues involve billions of pounds of public expenditure. Making this spending a political priority is a key task for Labour. We must make sure that all the issues around the funding of social care are given the priority and debate time that they deserve.

Barbara Keeley is MP for Worsley and Eccles South

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