A strong policy on ageing well could catapult Labour into government

Joe Morris

In a set of seats that will help decide the upcoming general election and could dictate the size and scale of a potential Labour majority, the issue of ageing is at the heart of how many people will cast their votes. Ageing affects communities, and the Conservatives’ failure over the last 13 years to adequately address the ongoing social care disaster is one of the party’s greatest weaknesses.

Labour must regain seats lost in 2019 and seats lost between 1997 and 2010. But one under-considered area is the ‘blue fade’ – traditionally Conservative seats, like Hexham in Northumberland or Basingstoke in Hampshire where a mix of demographic shifts, boundary changes and ongoing Conservative failures open a route for unprecedented wins.

It was only when I had to deal with the social care system directly that I realised how badly broken it was. Not that I wasn’t aware it was bad; it’s impossible to ignore. My grandfather died suddenly aged 86 in December last year. He had spent the last few years as the primary carer for my 90-year-old grandmother who has several health issues. He had done all he could to ensure that they might remain in their home, believing that homecare support would be available when needed. 12 weeks later, we continue to wait for any domiciliary support from the local council.

We have been told that the social care system is in crisis and help is not available. My parents, who fortunately live close by, have provided full-time support with some daily private help. Myself and my sisters help when we can. This is not tenable – not for my parents, for myself or my sisters and, most importantly, not for grandma. Many families have it worse than us.

Labour’s policy on ‘ageing well’ – ensuring dignity as we age, addressing regional inequalities in health outcomes and ensuring that communities retain young people to staff services and local businesses – will be vital, not just in winning the next election, but securing the next great achievement of Labour in power.

Social care is just a part of our quiet crisis. In the north, including a huge amount of traditionally Conservative seats, health outcomes are simply worse – and it costs the UK about £30bn annually in lost productivity, according to the Northern Health Science Alliance. The British Medical Bulletin found in 2015-17 that male average healthy life expectancy in the North East was only 59.5 years, compared to a national average of 63.4 years. Healthy life expectancy is how long we live in good health. In the North East, the average man lives roughly four years fewer in good health than the national average.

Hexham is a traditionally Conservative seat that Labour threatened to take in 1997 but has largely been written off as unwinnable for the party since 2001. With the over-65 population making up 27.5% of the constituency against a national average of 18.6%, Hexham is one of the oldest seats in the country. It struggles with a lack of careers for younger people, an acute housing shortage and a crisis in social care in Northumberland – where a briefing for group leaders on the local council indicated that there are more than 200 home social care packages that are unable to be met at any time, forcing a generation to care for their loved ones as a second job.

Wes Streeting announced last year that the next Labour government will look to build a National Care Service and revealed that the party has asked the Fabian Society to review where such a service should sit and the fairest way of funding it. UNISON has also launched a campaign for a National Care Service, to ensure that care workers are valued, recognised and rewarded as the skilled professionals that they are and to make certain that we are able to trust our care system.

Ageing is universal. From the densest cities to the most sparsely populated stretch of countryside, it affects everyone. For the blue fade seats, a strong policy on ageing well could catapult Labour from touching distance to making history on the next election night.

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