At Prime Minister’s Question time just before the Autumn Statement, this Wednesday afternoon, The leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, chose to focus his questions to the Prime Minister on the funding crisis in social care. Corbyn asked the Prime Minister about the more than 1 million people who are not receiving the social care they need, the impact this is having on emergency hospital admissions, the fact that it is causing people to be stranded in hospital for longer than they need, the worry and fear that people face in old age and the stress that it places on NHS and social care staff.
It is not just the Opposition party which is worried about social care: there is a growing range of increasingly vocal organisations and individuals who are seriously alarmed at not only the predicament of social care itself but at how the crisis has now overflowed into health services, leading to delayed discharge rates from hospitals, for example, being at record breaking highs. Simon Stevens, the CEO of NHS England, has said Ministers should prioritise any additional funding available to social care services rather than the NHS and the Care Quality Commission warned last month that social care is approaching a ‘tipping-point’.
They went on to say that frail older people are likely to suffer falls or illness, adding to the strain on hospitals and GPs unless further action is taken. In addition the Kings Fund, the Local Government Association, the NHS confederation, a growing number of MPs and charities including the Alzheimer’s Society, Scope, the MS Society and other members of the Care and Support Alliance have all said the same thing: the failure to invest in social care – the funding for which has fallen by one third in the last five years (2010 – 2015), generating an overall shortfall of £4.6 billion – has created a system at breaking point.
In response to Mr Corbyn’s questions the Prime Minister spoke about the Government’s existing efforts to invest more money in social care; the Better Care Fund and the social care precept for local authorities. Age UK welcomes both initiatives but the problem is they remain highly limited in their effects – sticking plaster solutions for a big and critical problem. So despite the stretched public finances and uncertainty caused by the shadow of Brexit we, alongside our colleagues across the health and care sector, had reason to hope that the Government would act in the Autumn Statement.
We were therefore surprised and incredibly disappointed that the Chancellor ignored social care entirely in this speech. The Government’s failure to provide any respite for our beleaguered social care system spells deepening misery for many older people.
It means current trends are certain to continue: more older people will get no help or not enough help; more care companies will exit the market or fold; more people will have to fund their own care and face big, rising bills; more family members – including many in their 80s and 90s – will have to shoulder the care of a loved one alone; more care staff will quit for less stressful jobs elsewhere; and all the good people working in social care battling to sustain good standards of care will face an even tougher job than they do today.
Our broken social care system is a stain on our country and represents a real risk to older people’s legitimate aspirations to live good, decent later lives. For this reason above all others Age UK will not give up the fight, indeed yesterday’s set back spurs us on to do even more to make the case for enough investment in social care to give our older people the quality of provision they need and are entitled to expect.