Labour’s ambition for social care is as far reaching as Bevan’s was for the NHS

Liz Kendall
© Chris McAndrew/CC BY 3.0

Transforming social care is the challenge of our generation. This was true even before Covid struck, but the pandemic has exposed, more than ever, the urgent need for reform. Labour’s ambition for social care is as far reaching as Nye Bevan’s formation of the NHS. When the welfare state was created, average life expectancy was 63. Now it is 80.

Social care was left out of the initial post-war settlement but is now vital to ensuring all older and disabled people can live the life they choose. That is why a future Labour government will modernise the welfare state from cradle to grave, investing in social care as part of our ambition to make Britain the best country in which to grow old.

20 years ago, I led an IPPR report called From Welfare to Wellbeing: the Future of Social Care. That vision remains true today, because social care is about far more than helping older and disabled people get up, washed, dressed and fed. At its best, social care is about ensuring we can all live in the place we call home, with the people we love, in communities that look out for one another, doing the things that matter most to us. The brilliant group Social Care Future has pioneered this vision, and it’s one a future Labour government will deliver.

Labour is championing a ten-year plan of investment and reform, co-produced with those who use and deliver services. Our priority is increasing access to care, so all older and disabled people get the right support, when and where they need it. It is a disgrace that Tory cuts to local council budgets have left nearly 300,000 people on ‘waiting lists’ for adult social care. This isn’t good for older and disabled people, and it’s not good for taxpayers either, if people end up needing more expensive residential or hospital care.

Labour will also radically shift the focus of support towards prevention and early intervention, with a new principle of ‘home first’. We will bring together care workers, district nurses, physiotherapists and other staff into one team so people don’t have to battle their way around the system. We will also expand the use of housing options, home adaptations and technology, and work with local community groups to offer early help with things like shopping, cleaning and tackling loneliness and isolation.

Half of the budget and a third of the users of social care are working age adults with disabilities, yet they have been almost entirely excluded in recent debates. Labour will champion independence, choice and control for disabled people, ensuring their views drive change throughout the system.

None of this will be possible without radical improvements in the pay and status of frontline staff. Labour’s new deal for care workers will deliver the pay, training, terms and conditions care workers deserve so that there is proper career progression and care workers are equally valued with those in the NHS. This is essential to tackling the 110,000 vacancies in social care and delivering the half a million extra care workers we need by 2030 just to meet growing demand.

Last, but by no means least, Labour will transform support for England’s 11 million unpaid family carers who were stretched to the limit even before the pandemic struck. We will uphold carers rights in the Care Act, provide proper information, advice and breaks, and ensure more flexibility at work so unpaid carers can better balance work and family life.

In stark contrast with Labour’s plans, the Tories’ so-called ‘NHS and social care levy’ won’t “fix the crisis in social care”, let alone deliver this broader vision. It won’t provide any additional resources for social care now, and there’s no guarantee of extra funding in future. It won’t deliver a single extra minute of care and support, or improve the quality of life for the 1.5 million elderly people currently going without the care they need. It won’t do anything to help the 600,000 staff still not getting paid a real Living Wage, or the quarter of all care staff on zero-hours contracts, and it won’t help the half of all unpaid carers who have been unable to take a single break for over five years.

And at £86,000, their cap on care costs won’t stop people having to sell their homes to pay for care. The reality is, people will still face huge care charges without seeing any improvement in quality, they will still face losing their family home, and the majority of care users will die before ever reaching the cap. The only thing the Tories’ proposal will guarantee is an unfair and punishing tax rise on the very frontline care workers and councils who have been pushed to breaking point after 11 years of this Tory government.

A future Labour government will invest in social care because we understand that in the century of ageing, social care is as much a part of our infrastructure as the roads and the railways. Our plans for a universal, needs-based, nationally funded, locally delivered care system are at the heart of our plans for a modernised welfare state. Working with everyone in the sector – staff, unions, providers, local authorities and, crucially, the users of care who are the people who matter most – this is what a future Labour government will deliver.

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