The inadequacy of current social care provision has been a hot topic in the media and Parliament this week. The appalling abuse of residents in Winterbourne Care Home, as uncovered by Panorama, and concerns about Southern Cross’ 750 care homes have provoked anger and anxiety. As such, Stephen Lloyd MP’s adjournment debate on Tuesday night on care services for older people was well-timed.
Mr Lloyd, as Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ageing and Older People, highlighted in Parliament the growing age profile of our population and the need to reform the social care system now. He highlighted in particular the needs of older people suffering from dementia, their families and carers. In support, Penny Mordaunt MP stated that in her constituency of Portsmouth alone, there are 1,000 people with dementia who have no access to services whatsoever.
The debate provided many questions, but few answers. The consensus was clear that the care system needs to change. Stephen Lloyd challenged the Government to provide a minimum level of care and support to everyone for free. He argued that access to early intervention services for those with dementia would improve the lives of those suffering from the condition and would make economic sense by delaying progress of the disease. He raised the importance of respite care for families coping with a loved one with dementia and called for a guarantee of good-quality care.
But we heard little from the Minister responding (Paul Burstow MP, Minister for Care Services) about concrete proposals for reform – he, like everyone else, is waiting for the proposals of the Dilnot Commission. Dilnot’s Commission on Funding of Care and Support is due to report at the beginning of next month, and we expect that legislation based on the Commission’s proposals and those of the Law Commission on reform of social care law will be a high priority for the Government in the next parliamentary session. In the meantime, the Minister last night did not comment on Stephen Lloyd’s proposals about social care funding, saying only that “there is no perfect solution… but we need to strive to reach a settlement that requires trade-offs but also secures the necessary change and sustainability of a system for the future.”
What Tuesday’s debate did do, was to raise in Parliament the real, human impact of care services on the lives of older people. Several MPs spoke with passion about the numbers in their constituency who were not receiving support, while Stephen Lloyd talked about the impact of dementia on his own family. Social care funding is not just a policy problem to be solved; it has a huge impact on the dignity and quality of life of millions of older people in the UK and their families. When the Government legislates to reform social care, Age UK will be making sure that their voices are heard.