It’s up to Labour leaders to retrieve social care from the Tory long grass

Anthony Lavelle

This Conservative government is incapable of dealing with the big issues facing our country. It’s bad enough that they’ve kicked business rates reform into the long grass and delayed the devolution white paper. But social care, arguably the sector most in need of reform, has been neglected once again with local authorities paying the price. Gone are the Rishi Sunak’s proclamations that he will do ‘whatever it takes’ to help councils through Covid. Instead, he’s clobbered them with a £2bn council tax bombshell and left families worrying about the future of their services.

With a growing older population driving up demand, the sticking plaster of the social care precept will soon be ripped off as the urgent need for investment and reform can no longer be ignored. In many ways that breaking point has already been reached as care homes creak under the financial burden of the pandemic that has tragically led to unsustainable levels of under-occupancy across the sector.

While the Conservatives in national government scrabble around to try and find a private sector solution, one that will no doubt reward their friends and donors, it is up to Labour in local government to deliver radical solutions that not only provide dignity in old age but deliver for local ratepayers too. In this case, the solution might be right under our noses.

The past decade has been characterised by relentless outsourcing across local government in a bonfire fuelled by reckless Tory austerity. From those ashes, an alternative is emerging. We should make it our mission to ensure that the next decade is one of insourcing – and social care might be the perfect place to start.

The old Tory maxim about delivering ‘value for money’ no longer rings true when the public purse is increasingly subsidising a private machine that survives on small profit margins. It is increasingly obvious that the private sector is incapable of providing the level of choice and quality of service that our older population deserve. Never mind the pay, security and terms and conditions that frontline staff – overwhelmingly made up of female workers and those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds – have more than earned. But there is a better way.

Recently, Liverpool City Council’s social care and health select committee adopted the recommendations in UNISON North West’s Who Cares? report, which looked at the incremental insourcing of services starting with the likes of home care services. This provides a welcome blueprint that would usher in a new era of professionalisation, direct employment and, yes, a viable public option.

Our council has experience of insourcing services that provide better outcomes and more bang for our buck where the taxpayer is concerned. In 2018, we took our refuse collection, street cleaning and grounds maintenance in-house and drastically improved the quality of service while cutting costs. By working in partnership with trade unions, we have established an innovative service that we can be proud of. In adult social care, we face another sector crying out for that same spirit of radicalism and innovation.

If I am selected as Labour’s candidate and then elected as mayor in May – something I don’t take for granted – I will make this one of my administration’s defining missions. Working alongside my own trade union, UNISON, we will work to deliver real fairness to a system that has for too long favoured profiteers. And, staying true to our values of solidarity, I’ll work with other leaders across our city region and the wider country to share best practice and ensure that Labour is delivering across the country.

This is not radical. It’s common sense. We can and must do better – and I’m determined that we will. It is vital that we put people back at the heart of our care system and recapture Labour’s spirit of innovation and social justice. Our care workers deserve much better than claps on a Thursday evening. As mayor, I will make sure they get it.

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