Ashley has dementia. He is one of the millions who need some kind of social care. In his case, he was given a place in a day care centre. But Ashley isn’t frail and elderly. He’s a vicar and his third child has just been born.
Ashley is also fictional, as Emmerdale fans will immediately have recognised. But Ashley’s plight after being diagnosed with early onset dementia highlights the fact that social care isn’t just a problem affecting the frail elderly but younger adults.
Neither is it a problem that only affects those who need the care. When social care is inadequate, families are left to pick up the pieces. This is not easy when relatives are working, caring for children or don’t live near vulnerable relatives. And it’s not just adults who are affected. In my last tutor group there were two teenagers who were sole carers for terminally ill parents. I do not know how much social care their mothers received, if any. But caring for sick relatives has a negative effect on the education of young carers. Young carers have rights to help but are as likely to be affected by the social care crisis as other carers.
The looming social care crunch can’t be brushed aside as a regrettable problem affecting a minority. It actually affects everyone. Those who need social care but don’t get it are more likely to end up in hospital where they will stay until a social care package is put together. But nursing agencies and homes are finding it more difficult to manage on the money paid by local authorities. The social care emergency is likely to cripple the NHS already creaking from inadequate funding and a rise in conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
Prime Minister Theresa May is right that adult social care has been ignored by successive governments. But during the Coalition years it didn’t just remain a neglected policy. Funding was reduced as local authority (LA) budgets were squeezed and the Treasury would rather waste billions on restructuring the NHS and throwing money at academy conversion. What was chronic has become critical.
The Government’s answer is to dump the problem on LAs by giving them permission to raise the social care ‘precept’ in the community charge. This is unacceptable. Less affluent areas will not be able to raise as much money as more affluent ones. This will lead to the inevitable post code lottery. Such a short-term system might just about work in well-off areas but it won’t in areas just about managing.
Adult social care should be funded adequately and centrally. Anything less is unacceptable.