Until the middle of September the biggest challenge facing social care was undoubtedly the management of Covid; keeping residents safe, families in touch with their loved ones and colleagues supported. The pandemic created a set of unprecedented circumstances, with care homes thrust into the spotlight in a way that we could never have imagined they would be.
In amongst the trauma, a ray of light emerged – Covid gave the sector an opportunity to show the public at large what undervalued and important work it does.
An air of optimism began to develop that the Johnson government would deliver on its pre-election promise and finally grasp the nettle of reform and use the platform of the pandemic to introduce the long overdue changes, so desperately needed.
We needn’t have held our breath; what followed last week was a deeply underwhelming, disjointed and what appears to be ill thought through set of statements that will do nothing to fix the ills of the sector. Rather they serve only to prop up a creaking NHS through tax increases that for the next three years at least care home providers, care workers and our residents will see little benefit from at all. The sector has been overlooked, yet again, despite the pandemic demonstrating the essential role that social care plays in the balance of the nation’s provision of health care – the NHS simply cannot function without its reliance on external services, like aged care.
As I listened to the Prime Minister, from his new Downing Street press stage, I was reminded of Baldrick, Lord Blackadder’s hapless sidekick, “My lord, I have a cunning plan”. Sadly the Johnson plan is so cunning that if you put a tail on it you could call it a weasel. Tax rises for all, more petrol into the leaky NHS petrol tank and social care left to struggle on, under a glorious technicoloured headline with no substance behind it.
What keeps me awake at the moment and will do so for the next 36 months is the future of social care, because I genuinely fear for its future, particularly following the disappointment of a plan so long awaited and yet so lacking. At the Harry Potter World in Leavesden, ills can be banished with one swish of a wand, but in the real world there are no phoenix feathers or unicorn hair. Behind glossy headlines, we need detail, actual investment and structural change that is going to make a difference, cash that gets through to the front line and we need it now, not in 2023.
For 18 months we have clapped for carers, worn Hancock’s badges and spoken with pride of how we know people who work in social care. Fast forward to today and are faced with sacking colleagues for refusing the Covid jab, while the government has made no effort to understand or alleviate the concerns of those people, many of whom willingly abandoned their families and put themselves at, as it was then, unquantified risk, to care for the frail and elderly. How do we reward them? With their P45.
This country owes a debt of gratitude to the 1.5m people who work in social care. They deserve better than threats to their employment, they deserve more than social care reforms that will do nothing to solve the fundamental problems in the sector and they deserve political leaders who really understand the value of the sector, are prepared to invest into it and know what is required to make it better.
In World War I the British infantry were commonly referred to as ‘Lions led by Donkeys’. Much of the Government rhetoric around Covid has framed the pandemic as a war, which is ironic, as it would appear that history is indeed repeating itself.