Cllr Lucy Caldicott is the Cabinet Member for Health and Adult Social Care (job-share) and a councillor in Stockwell ward.
Speaking to a Lambeth resident on her doorstep a few days ago, she said to me, “You politicians only ever seem to talk about the young. What about us? What about older residents?”
She had a point. And as the full-time carer for her frail husband, unable to leave the house much, particularly during the pandemic, it is easy to see why she might feel forgotten.
A couple of days later, and adult social care was firmly in the media spotlight following the government’s announcement of its “Build back better” plan for health and social care full of promises to address the backlogs in the NHS and “commence a once in a generation transformation to adult social care”. It’s funny how tax increases raise the political temperature. Most of the focus of the discussion has been on how much money and who will pay it, with the burden being borne by the young and lower paid.
Unfortunately, there’s little of substance to the announcements that will help the resident I was speaking to, or anybody worrying about who’s going to take care of them. We are promised a social care white paper that will “fix” social care. But before we can fix something we need to adequately define what it is, set out a vision for how it could be improved and a plan to get there. In the government announcements, there is no definition, no vision and, as yet, no plan.
People’s needs vary hugely and evolve. But what all Lambeth’s residents have in common is the desire to be supported in a way that is individualised, respectful, and kind.
Many will want to be looked after at home for as long as possible with the help of adaptations and equipment. Many need care from early on in life. Some care requirements will be highly specialised and individualised, other care requirements are more standard. In a borough like Lambeth, factors such as poverty, racism, and homophobia will all play a part in defining need.
What the government has promised is a funding proposal that largely focuses on addressing the enormous waiting lists for NHS treatment that have built up during COVID. There is welcome new funding for training for the social care workforce and support for their mental health, but we have to wait, yet again, for information about the spending review for local authorities.
This leaves multiple issues to be addressed. In order to offer care that addresses individual needs, local authorities need investment and flexibility. We also need enough staff to deliver this care – and pay them properly for the vital care they provide.
So, while it’s a good start to see social care in the spotlight, whether the government will provide the “fix” that Lambeth’s residents and tens of thousands of others have been waiting for remains to be seen.