Dr Jenni Brooks
Senior Lecturer in Sociology and NIHR School for Social Care Research Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University
Social care unintentionally became a key election issue for the Conservatives through the inclusion in their manifesto of what MP Nigel Evans referred to as ‘a full frontal assault on our core voters – the elderly’. The party had previously committed themselves to a new green paper, but care minister David Mowat has lost his Warrington South seat, and his role has not yet been filled in the cabinet reshuffle. The future of social care under a minority Conservative government is uncertain.
The role of unpaid carers
What is clear is that under the Conservatives, even more emphasis will be placed on the responsibility of unpaid carers, who currently provide the vast majority of social care support, saving the state an estimated £132 billion each year. Back in January, David Mowat said that people have just as much of a duty to look after their elderly parents as their children.
The Conservative manifesto contained plans to introduce a new statutory entitlement to carers leave – a welcome acknowledgement of the detrimental impact caring responsibilities can have on wellbeing. However, this will be unpaid leave and given that 58% of informal carers are women, it is likely to have a significant effect on the gender pay gap.
A focus on older people
Much of the discussion around social care in the run up to the election focused on older people. The ‘dementia tax’ label given to Conservative plans for including the value of a person’s house when means testing for domiciliary care meant younger disabled people were effectively excluded from the debate. Yet 48% of adult social care funding supports people aged 18-64. There has been little discussion about support for this group, or the implications for disabled people living with parents who may end up needing social care themselves.
The Conservative manifesto mentioned younger disabled people only in relation to ‘getting one million more people with disabilities into employment over the next ten years’, partly through ‘incentivising employers to take them on’, for example by giving a one year holiday on employers’ National Insurance Contributions (though what happens at the end of that year is anyone’s guess).
Yes, the disability employment gap is real – and it will not be tackled by ‘incentivising’ employers to take on disabled people. It is worrying (but perhaps not surprising) that the Conservative party’s discourse around younger disabled people focuses primarily on increasing their contribution to the economy.
A radical shake up
There needs to be real change in the way social care is funded and provided. It is not sustainable to rely on unpaid family and friends to meet an individual’s needs and charging people individually places an unfair disadvantage on those with longer term needs.
We cannot be certain what the future holds for social care. The promised green paper may be abandoned while the government focuses on negotiations with the EU. It seems unlikely that the inadequate service provision, poor working conditions and chaos resulting from years of cuts to adult social care will leave us any time soon.