This blog post was contributed by Rob Henderson, Public Affairs Manager at Age UK.
This was a challenging budget for the Chancellor to deliver. Over five months ago, the snap general election changed the political landscape beyond recognition: a very slim majority, a difficult economic outlook and with the shadow of Brexit over everything the government had little wiggle room.
For Age UK the focus for radical policy improvement and investment needed to be on the social care system. The Prime Minister made the case for social care reform in the Conservative party’s manifesto, making a commitment to ‘act where others have failed to lead’ and the Government’s recent announcement that it will release a Green Paper on social care in summer 2018 is welcome news. However, this budget was an opportunity to plug the gap that exists in the system right now, not kick the issue into the long grass.
The £2 billion in additional funding that we cautiously welcomed in the spring is not enough to plug the gap, which we made clear at the time. Once the Green Paper is published in the summer, it will be subject to a full public consultation, meaning that in reality the findings of the paper won’t be acted on until 2019 or 2020. Between now and then the system needs an additional 2.5 billion just to keep ticking over.
The Chancellor could have shored up the social care system for the rest of the parliament, but he chose not to. Instead, he framed the budget around the needs of younger voters and future homeowners. The budget was trailed as one designed to appeal to, and entice younger voters, and a raft of measures have been introduced for this purpose, from funds for start-ups, to extending young person’s rail cards to the age of 30 and crucially the pledges to scrap stamp duty for first time buyers. As a young(ish) voter myself I welcome these policies, but to think you can win young votes by offering extensions to rail card schemes and ignoring ticking time bombs like social care and NHS funding is naive. That approach just doesn’t work.
New data from Sky shows why. Their recent poll found 60% of 18-34 year olds think older people get less than their fair share from the government, and if you look beyond the headlines about baby boomers rattling around mansions, it’s not hard to see why: 1.9 million pensioners live in poverty and years of austerity has resulted in rising demands for services and this in turn is taking its toll on patient care. On top of this our social care system is on the very brink of meltdown.
The very people who the government is trying to appeal to by scrapping stamp duty for first time buyers will be the carers of tomorrow. Unless more funding is found, more and more people who are either in need of social care now, or will be in the future, will miss out, already over a million vulnerable people are struggling with no care or support. This shift of pressure directly to service users, their families and their carers isn’t fair on anyone, young or old. In fact, it’s about as far from intergenerational fairness as you can get.
Hopefully we will enjoy a later life without the need for social care and the catastrophic care costs many face. If we’re lucky, we’ll all grow old one day. Many children born today can expect to reach the age of 100, and many young voters can reasonably expect to reach their late 80s, 90s and beyond.
The prominence of social care to this year’s election debate shows there is an appetite from all of us for meaningful change to a struggling system. Addressing our social care crisis isn’t running after the so called ‘grey vote’ – its fixing a broken system – and younger voters would thank any party with the courage to take a long term approach to this. The Government missed that chance in this budget.