Our first step to a National Care Service will be paying carers a proper wage

Wes Streeting
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

This weekend, I marched through the streets of Tredegar to celebrate the memory of Nye Bevan. It was the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, established by miners and steelworkers to provide healthcare for the town, that inspired Bevan to create the National Health Service. Just as that 1945 Labour government built the NHS in the aftermath of the Second World War, the next Labour government will build a National Care Service out of the pandemic.

This is unfinished business for Labour. By 2010, the last Labour government had restored our NHS after 18 years of Tory ruin. Waiting lists were the lowest on record, with waiting times drastically reduced, and patient satisfaction was at its highest in the history of the health service. We then published a white paper for our next mission – building a National Care Service.

12 years of Conservative cuts to social care have left elderly and disabled people going without the care they need, and it has put enormous pressure on our NHS. Around 400,000 patients each month are fit to leave hospital but can’t, mainly because care support isn’t available. If patients were able to return home when they were ready, the millions of people waiting for care could be seen sooner. But with pay falling below the average retail wage in the last decade, carers are quitting in droves for places like Amazon.

The NHS wants care to be prioritised. One NHS trust I visited in Leeds is voluntarily reducing its own budget so more can go to social care. Yet despite the urgent need to secure social care services, Health Secretary Sajid Javid refuses to act.

It cannot be right that private equity is allowed to pay poverty wages and provide unacceptable standards of care while leeching millions out of care homes. When even Jeremy Hunt describes this as the “unacceptable face of capitalism”, you know the system needs to change.

One thing the government could do now to bring down record-long NHS waiting times is recruit and retain more carers by paying a fair wage and giving them proper rights at work. That is what the next Labour government will do, including through the rollout of fair pay agreements, as the first step towards a National Care Service.

We know we cannot deliver this new service overnight, perhaps not even within our first term. We have asked the Fabian Society to review where a National Care Service should sit and the fairest way of funding it. The recommendations will be made before the next election. Our priorities will be getting more carers in and guaranteeing quality standards for patients across the service.

Bevan said an NHS providing healthcare to all those who need it would be the “most civilised thing in the world”. It’s time we extend that civility and respect to those in need of care.

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