Gunboats to Jersey on Election Day? Nothing better illuminates the Gilbert and Sullivan style of our prime minister. But despite the stunts, these were local elections in England, where most services are or are not provided.
From garbage cans to parks, potholes and police, to safe or miserable environments, most quality of life services are controlled locally, not in Westminster, and by far the most important is social care, which consumes more of half of the budgets of the city councils. However, the attention is invisible to most voters. When families suddenly find it – desperate parents of a child with special needs or a family in need of the care of a parent with dementia – they are surprised to find a threadbare zip code lottery of erratic services. Many voters who voted Thursday know practically nothing on welfare, blindly assuming it’s like the NHS, until they need it, and most won’t.
That is why no specific plan for social care in England, it is a delegated responsibility, will appear in the Queen’s speech next Tuesday. Once again, the government estimates that not enough voters benefit to make it worth spending the many billions it would take to correct this. Expect the Queen to make another lighthearted promise from a white paper: The Future Social Care Coalition, comprising all concerned bodies, was appalled at receive a letter from the chief secretary to the Treasury telling them he would “present reform proposals next year”, or at some point never, more likely. If Johnson dominates the political scene, he may forget his promise from the Downing Street podium to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan that we have prepared.”
Plans came and went in Downing Street until last month, but Chancellor’s austerity won out: Telegraph reports Treasury hopes to “kill the whole thing”. Expect this to be the depressing pattern for most post-Covid spending.
Also, the only plan Johnson was interested in was the promise that no one should lose their home to pay for the costs of care. But the immediate emergency is less inheritance loss than inattention: Age UK last year reported 2,000 frail elderly per day had been denied care when asking for help during the previous year.
The care ranges from highly profitable high-end homes owned by hedge funds in tax havens to small family businesses that go bankrupt because fees for state-funded care are too low. The abysmal pay of health workers means there are 100,000 vacancies.
But only lost inheritances worry conservatives, ever since David Cameron commissioned a report from Andrew Dilnot in 2011: He recommended limiting to £ 35,000 what people in England should pay before the state paid the bill. But that would only subsidize rather than solve the cost problem: Dilnot was not asked how to find the funds to repair the service itself. The law was approved, but never enacted, costing too many billions for George Osborne’s austerity.
There is almost something comical, if not tragic, in the ignorance of this government’s social policy. The story is that when the NHS was recently asked to model the effect of implementing Dilnot, this “leveling” government was dismayed to find that the 200,000 families a year who would benefit the most would be those of the top wealth quintile living in the southeast. It didn’t take a genius to figure that out. It is not surprising that the government does not have a plan for all the contradictions that “leveling up” entails.
Don’t hold your breath for genuine social care reform. Expect only plugs to stop the collapse of tips under pressure in this fall’s comprehensive spending review. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says the latest budget delivered 8% cuts to most departments: councils will once again be forced to wield the Treasury ax.
Here’s why this government, like others, will never produce a comprehensive social care plan: For them, each option is a political or financial pestilence. Make everyone pay more taxes? That means homeless youth subsidize property-rich seniors. Have the elderly with funds pay a lump sum or lien on their home when they retire? They condemned it as an “inheritance tax.” Make everyone, or just those over 40, pay for care insurance? Profits are already stagnant. They could create a national care service, putting councils back in charge of the chaotic array of agencies and nursing homes outsourced by Margaret Thatcher, but that’s a big renationalization. Neither of these seem convincing when Ipsos Mori show attention remains scant on public concerns. In looming austerity, why not keep those billions to get attention with more political benefits for the money?
On the day of Queen’s speech, see if Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is still wearing his “care” badge. The speech is expected to include a bill to try to reclaim a united NHS from the chaos caused by Andrew Lansley’s 2012 Act, which tore it apart. The architect of the bill, outgoing Simon Stevens, head of England’s NHS, is trying to eliminate competition and tenders to create an integrated care system everywhere to combine hospitals, GPs, community services and social care. . But the bill will not legally bind the councils; Without a social care plan, that is impossible, so it compromises the whole idea. Matt Hancock is in charge of the Health Department. and social assistance. In practice, the two will remain as divided as ever, until some government is brave enough to grab the nettle.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism