Towards a National Care Service

After a decade of Tory social care cuts, Labour has announced its alternative: a National Care Service offering free personal care to everyone over 65.

After nine years of council budget cuts from Conservative and Liberal Democrat Governments, the social care system is at breaking point.

Every day, 5,000 people approach their local council for help with social care including basic tasks like getting up, washing and dressing and eating meals. In the same time, 90 people die waiting for their council to provide the support they need in the face of swingeing Tory cuts. 

According to Age UK, 1.4 million older people are not getting the support they need. Across the country, older people are trapped in bed all day because there is nobody to help them get up, and forced to wear incontinence pads because they can’t get up the stairs to the bathroom. 

In Britain today, there are older people surviving on toast or microwave meals because that’s all a neighbour has time to prepare for them. Or going all week without washing because their children can only visit at weekends.

This is a daily reality. Rather than being able to enjoy their old age, too many older people are struggling to get by every day – reliant on the time and help of family members or friends and neighbours, which may not go far enough.

There is a reason for this. Since 2010, £7.7 billion has been taken out of social care budgets, resulting in hundreds of thousands fewer people receiving publicly-funded social care. 

In the absence of government support, these people are forced to exhaust their savings to pay for care or forced to rely on friends, family and neighbours to provide the most basic levels of assistance. And too many simply must go without the care they need.

This care crisis has enormous costs for individuals and for our society. Not getting the care you need can mean being left isolated in your own home, unable to either access your community or even other rooms of your house. It can mean family members — often your children — having to carry out intimate personal tasks.  

Cuts to social care services have had dire consequences for our NHS as well. Older people who don’t get the care they need are more likely to fall, become malnourished or become ill for other reasons. This means more hospital admissions which could be avoided — in an already under-funded system.

And the lack of social care leads to older people being kept in hospital for longer once they are admitted. In July this year, nearly one third of delayed discharges from hospital were attributed to social care packages not being available. This meant that 46,000 hospital bed days were lost in just one month because of cuts to social care.

Labour has announced that in government we will introduce free personal care for older people who need it. We want to ensure that every older person in this country can live with the dignity they deserve. We want to ensure that people can stay living in their own homes for longer.

Under Labour, the number of people receiving state-funded social care will more than double. The number of people facing catastrophic costs for their care will fall by over 60,000.

And this will be paid for without relying on the gimmicks that the Conservative Party are floating. Rather than insurance models or one-off taxes, we will fund this vital support out of general taxation. This is the principle we use for our schools and our NHS, and we believe it is the right principle to use for social care.

The announcements we made at conference are only the first step in building a National Care Service. We plan to go further to ensure that everybody gets the care and support that they need.

This means rolling out free personal care to disabled people under the age of 65. This is something we will do as soon as we can, and we will start by finding out the level of needs among working age adults with a disability.

It means building a system of ethical commissioning so that we can guarantee services are provided by organisations who treat their care staff well and don’t use the social care system as a cash cow to pay their shareholders.

It means supporting local councils to develop their capacity to run care services in house, rather than being forced to contract services out.

And it means treating care workers with the respect that they deserve. They do an immensely valuable job, but too many are stuck on poorly paid zero-hour contracts. 

Care staff and support staff on sleep-in shifts are even denied the minimum wage for their shifts. We will ensure they are paid a real living wage, have guaranteed hours and can access the training they need. 

After nearly a decade of Tory cuts, transforming our social care system is not something we can achieve overnight. But Labour will fight to ensure that everyone in this country has the care and support to live their lives with the dignity they deserve.