Transforming social care must be treated as “economic priority”, says Labour

Elliot Chappell

Labour’s Liz Kendall will declare in a speech on Thursday that transforming social care must be treated as an “economic priority” because the sector is “as much a part of our economic infrastructure as the roads and the railways”.

Addressing the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) spring conference, the shadow minister for social care is expected to outline her party’s vision for transforming support for older and disabled people in the UK.

Highlighting the US President Joe Biden administration’s ‘home-first’ approach to care, and decision to include investment in home care as part of his post-pandemic infrastructure plan, Kendall will call for a ten-year investment and reform plan.

She will argue that Labour’s aims go beyond ‘fixing’ social care, to transforming support and making the UK “the best country in which to grow old”. She will outline the party’s priorities for a reformed social care sector, including:

 

  • “Taking a ‘home-first’ approach by increasing the use of early help and technology to help people live independently for as long as possible and expanding the options between care at home and a care home;
  • “Empowering care users and their families to live the life they choose, giving them greater say and control;
  • “A new deal for frontline care workers to transform pay, training and working conditions;
  • “A new partnership with families, where government backs unpaid carers to look after their loved ones; and
  • “Joined up health and social care services to deliver a ‘one person, one team, one system’.”

 

The shadow minister is expected to argue that our health and social care system is “built on the life expectancy of the 1940s”, when the NHS was created, and highlight the significant advances and changes in the years since.

“Our health and care system has struggled to keep pace with these changes,” Kendall will tell those watching the speech on Thursday. “One of the underlying reasons for this is that caring just isn’t valued like other professions.

“It’s seen as women’s work, mostly left to families, and if they can’t cope provided by some of the lowest paid workers in this country – the vast majority of whom are women, with many from Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.”

Kendall declared that social care workers have been “undervalued and underpaid for too long” following the publication of a report warning of a looming recruitment crisis in the sector in November last year.

In its report, Time to bring our care workers in from the cold, charity Age UK raised concerns over low pay and a sustained lack of personal protective equipment and highlighted the 122,000 care sector job vacancies needing to be filled.

“If you neglect your country’s physical infrastructure you get roads full of potholes, and buckling bridges, which prevent your economy functioning properly. The same is true if you fail to invest in social infrastructure,” Kendall will say on Thursday.

“Labour’s priority will be to empower older and disabled people to live the life they choose, fundamentally shifting the focus of support towards prevention and early help, under the guiding principle of ‘home first’.”

Boris Johnson has on several occasions promised to reform social care since becoming Prime Minister. In his first speech after taking the role in July 2019, he told the public that he would “fix the crisis in social care once and for all”.

The health service and social care white paper recently unveiled by Health Secretary Matt Hancock earlier this year did not address social care, committing only to announcing reforms to the sector “this year”.

Labour has repeatedly demanded that the government publish its proposals for social care. Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner called for a plan guaranteeing that all workers be paid at least the real living wage in September last year.

Addressing UNISON’s Women’s Conference in February, she called on ministers to increase pay for carers to £10 an hour as she said that poverty wages in the care sector are not just “morally wrong” but also “holding back our economy”.

Analysis from the party showed that increasing social care staff pay to at least £10 per hour would result in rises of up to £3,500 a year, which Rayner argued would contribute to the post-Covid recovery and help secure the economy.

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