Social care demands so much more than funding
The United Kingdom has a parliamentary election today, and after calling it seven weeks ago Prime Minister Theresa May was so confident of victory that she slipped into her manifesto a highly contentious plan to reform social care funding.
Immediately dubbed a ‘dementia tax’, the plan was so unpopular in her party’s propertied heartlands that it made history as the first manifesto promise to be broken before an election.
How much political damage that did her we will only discover tomorrow, but at least May’s manifesto muddle brought social care to centre stage in the election campaign — until mass murder in Manchester deservedly knocked it off the front pages.
Or did it? As a political issue social care certainly was overshadowed in the final weeks of the campaign, not least by a further terrorist atrocity in London last weekend. But in some ways social care itself was well expressed in the response of the finest of the people of Manchester and London to their cities’ tragedies.
If it means anything, social care is about building communities in which our common humanity can flourish. This requires well-organised services, funded adequately to provide the professional support needed. But that support should mobilise and strengthen, rather than replace or undermine, our freely given commitment as family, neighbours, friends and human beings.
In proposing that we should all pay for our own social care until we are down to our last £100,000, including the value of our homes, Prime Minister May expressed two conflicting sides of the world view of the advisors that got her into the policy mess.
They insist that older people with wealth should recycle it into the services they need in their later years rather than expecting others to subsidise their children’s inheritance. But in trying to reconcile hostility to inherited advantage with their greater hostility to socialised services they came up with a plan that would create new dimensions of unfairness and inequality.
While families living with dementia would have financial drainage and domestic anxiety added to their already daunting challenges, those with less need for support would also get to keep all their wealth. The fairer solution is to pool the risk, so that care funding expresses social solidarity.
That was the spirit shown by so many in Manchester’s diverse community in the wake of the atrocity there, and in heroic practice by those, such as Guy’s Hospital nurse Kirsty Boden, whose extraordinary courage in going to help victims of the London Bridge attack led to her own violent death.
Just as no amount of policing could ever succeed without the exemplary humanity of amazing people such as Kirsty Boden, so no amount of funding will produce the social solidarity we need if we are to build and sustain caring societies.
We cannot build such societies without employing enough well qualified professionals, but nor can they deliver sustainably without developing and mobilising the capacities of their clients and communities to take better care of ourselves and each other.
Whoever is elected to govern the United Kingdom today, we should certainly demand from them that public services are funded adequately and fairly. But if we think that by doing so we have fully discharged our personal and civic responsibilities to social care we should not blame the politicians for our disappointment.
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