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Funding Social Care - 'A Moral Crossroads'

Photo courtesy of National Council for Palliative Care

Monday 22nd October 2012

The Archbishop of York has called for a 'more fulfilled and dignified life' for older people, stating that social care in the UK needs to be properly funded. His article in The Daily Mail follows...

I am always grateful that, thanks to improvements in medical science and rising living standards, nowadays people live longer than ever before.


Whilst it may cause difficulties for the economists, living longer is something that we should celebrate as a society. Older people should not be seen as a problem, rather we should learn vital lessons from their wisdom and experience. 


It is a wonderful gift that most of us can expect to live into old age, enjoy time with our grandchildren, and continue to help our communities to flourish.


However, we have a responsibility to ensure that people who are given those extra years of life are able to live them to their full potential, not merely reduced to ‘existing’.


A life lived as a waiting room for death is no life at all – it is right that everyone has the opportunity to lead active and independent lives.


As we head into the last years of life many of us will need some extra help and support. Some will find their bodies fail them – whether that is as a result of frailty from old age or developing a health condition earlier in life. For others their minds will fade in dementia.


As a community we should ensure that help will be there to support people – indeed, I always say you can judge how healthy a society it is by how it treats its most vulnerable members.  


By sharing responsibility, we help both those needing support and those who are closest to them. We strengthen society and help it to grow.


Looking around us, in these tough economic times, we can all see that too many are having to face the daily struggles of old age and disability alone.


Age UK estimates that 800,000 older people who need support with the everyday tasks most of us take for granted – such as washing, preparing meals or going to the toilet – do not have any formal support.


Many more receive only tiny amounts of help – sometimes only 15 minutes a day – in which a care worker rushes around trying to complete tasks against the clock. People need not only practical care, but also things such as a listening ear, love and interaction. If we do not value the importance of every single unique human being then we have a very sick society indeed.


I believe that the quality of social care is the litmus test for a humane society. 


Families and friends do their best to provide all the care that they can, but many older people are left to struggle in isolation without support. Undoubtedly the state has a role to play in supporting people in old age – the people who have given so much to make our country the great place that it is today.


Caring for someone in the last few years of their life or with severe disabilities can be incredibly demanding, both emotionally and physically – it is a 24/7 vocation.


No matter how much a carer loves the person they are caring for, without respite from their responsibilities or support to share the load, they can end up sacrificing their own health and mental wellbeing. We should not shut away families who are struggling with caring responsibilities. These are not problems which can be swept under the carpet, they are issues that we need to tackle head on.


When someone is struggling, we should not look on in despair – we should walk alongside them offering our practical support.


Over the years, the amount of money spent on adult social care initially stagnated and then decreased. It cannot be right that at a time when the numbers of older and disabled people are growing, there is a smaller pot of money to share amongst the growing need. 


More older people are now having to face spiralling care costs just to be able to live with dignity. The generation that saved for their old age, and paid their dues, now often see all that they worked for is sucked into a vortex of social care costs.


My concern is that even when people give up all their life’s assets, achieved after a lifetime of hard work and diligence, there is no guarantee even that the quality of care they receive is assured.


I want to see our politicians, from across the political divide, do something to address this great injustice which affects such a large proportion of our society. Let us put aside cynicism and suspicion and adopt an approach based on mutual respect and hope.


The Coalition Government has been deliberating on the issue since it came to office two and half years ago. The previous Government also looked long and hard at the issue, without implementing anything to address the problem. The time for talk is over, and the time for action has arrived.


In July, a Social Care White Paper was published and we now await a draft Social Care Bill this autumn.


There’s no doubt that the White Paper had welcome elements to it, such as streamlining the current conflicting mess of legislation, and introducing better assessment and support for carers and a National Eligibility Criteria by 2015, which should in principle introduce minimum care standards.


But the proposals need a solid bedrock of funding to make them work. So far our politicians have failed to commit to finding the money and there is also a resounding silence on the impact of austerity cuts to social care. We know that there is a £500 million funding gap, which perpetuates the immediate social care crisis – and it will not go away if we choose to ignore it.


I have repeatedly spoken out in favour of a cap to the lifetime costs of care, as recommended by the eminent economist Andrew Dilnot, who was commissioned by the Government to suggest solutions to the future funding of care and support in England.


This would enable people to share the responsibility for paying for their care with the state, giving people peace of mind at a difficult time.


We need to help people prepare and plan for their old age, without the fear that they will be left with nothing. A well-funded system, that will deliver high quality standards of care, must be put in place.


Compassion and care are fundamental to the integrity of our society.  The funding of social care cannot wait, cannot be delayed, and cannot be compromised. When we see those living with frailty or disability, we should provide an environment of safety, calm and peace.


I believe we are at a moral crossroads where we need to choose how we want our society to be. Do we want a country where we are able to seek the support and compassion of others at times of vulnerability, or do we want one where individuals face whatever life throws at them on their own.


I am firmly of the opinion that the funding of social care will define the legacy of this Government. It is a decision we will look back on in years to come and say, when times were tough, did our politicians deliver for the greater good – or did they simply hide in the long grass?


Courage and conviction is required, but by acting boldly we could guarantee a more fulfilled and dignified life for our ageing population.


For me, the choice may be difficult but it is also obvious.

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