Will the wave of Covid-19 care home deaths finally jolt us into grappling with the way we look after our frail and elderly?by Nicholas Timmins / October 5, 2020 / Leave a comment
Social care—the huge, unloved, frequently neglected arm of Britain’s welfare state—has been put under the spotlight as never before by Covid-19. It started with the move to protect the NHS by emptying hospital beds to cope with the huge surge of cases that was to come. Thousands of patients untested for the virus were discharged to care homes. With that came a desperate failure to provide personal protective equipment fast enough, let alone tests for the coronavirus. There have since been perhaps 20,000 deaths in care homes in England alone, along with more deaths among those receiving care at home, who include not just the elderly but people with learning and other disabilities. It should not be forgotten that around half the social care budget is spent on adults of working age.
But with those grim statistics has come a focus, for once, on the low pay and lack of status of the sector’s staff, and a recognition of the heroics that many have performed in the face of enormous odds. The social care workforce numbers around 1.5m, roughly the same size as that of the NHS. But it is so much less visible, so much less valued. And, as the endgame of Brexit approaches, it is worth noting that around 250,000 of them are non-UK nationals, with no one, even now, clear what the final impact of breaking with the European Union will be.
It is almost 30 years since the last big reform of social care in England (Scotland is different and not covered here). But the judgment of the author of those reforms, Roy Griffiths, that social care is “a poor relation; everybody’s distant relative, but nobody’s baby” still has a horrible ring of truth. So now that the pandemic has highlighted the problems of social care as never before, we are going to fix it, right? Sadly, that would not be a sensible wager.
Social care reform is one of the great public policy failures of the past generation. Why? Perhaps in part because it is not actually one big problem, but at least three. Who pays for it? What do people get for that? And how and by whom should it be provided? Worse, there is no perfect answer to any of these questions. All solutions will…