This year’s Carers Week – when we recognise the important contribution of unpaid carers in communities across the country – is justifiably focussed on #MakingCaringVisible. It is a much needed opportunity for society to reflect on the hidden work and commitment of our unpaid carers. At a time of the partial lifting of the restrictions due to lockdown – many disabled people, older people and people who are seriously ill will continue to shield – unpaid carers have done what they always do, stepped up to support those who need it most. Research published this week by Carers UK revealed that due to Coronavirus an additional 4.5 million people are now unpaid carers, taking on additional caring responsibilities for their loved ones at risk.
If we are to successfully utilise the sentiment of initiatives such as #ClapForCarers, there is a once in a generation opportunity to create the political imperative necessary to provide more support and recognition to our unpaid carers. This has the potential to be an integral part of long awaited reforms to create a sustainable future for adult social care.
In the 2019 General Election the Conservative Party pledged to create a ‘cross-party consensus’ for the reform of our social care system, even if there were few details about what this reform would look like, and a timetable for ‘its’ implementation. All parties can agree the status quo is not an option. All parties can’t agree the option to get out of it. The higher profile and awareness of social care during Coronavirus, and the devastating impact on Care Homes in particular, has placed the reform of social care much higher up the political and media agenda. But for how long?
After many years of waiting for the Government to publish the much anticipated ‘Green Paper’ on social care, in the interim we have been awarded with Matt Hancock MP proudly wearing a ‘Green – ‘CARE’ – Badge’ instead. The badge is welcome, but as a policy proposal for reform, it has its limits. As MPs and political commentators of all persuasions would agree, if we do not see the political imperative for change in our social care system now, what more will it take?
During the previous election for the leadership of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer MP talked encouragingly about the merits of setting up a Royal College for Social Care, as a means to raise the status of the highly skilled people who work to provide care and support, and ensure it has the professional recognition it deserves. Obviously, but not yet delivered, issues such as higher pay, and status from society would clearly benefit the social care workforce too.
The appointment of Liz Kendall MP as Shadow Minister for Care, widely regarded as one of Westminster’s most highly effective media communicators, with astute political acumen and antennae is also revealing. The appointment suggests an interest in social care issues is seen by Labour’s ambitious for power leadership team, as a key part of improving its appeal in the former ‘Red Wall’ heartlands. This in turn will raise the pressure on the Government to build on the Prime Minister’s encouraging words on the steps of 10 Downing Street to finally “fix the crisis in social care once and for all.” But the longer the political clock ticks, the louder the tocks for the reform of social care will become.
As we all learn to live with the realities of the ‘new normal’ and reflect about what we have learnt as a society and what it means for the future, we have the opportunity to #BuildBackBetter. The government has the opportunity to build on the important symbolism of the Health & Social Care Secretary’s Green Badge, to the substance of publishing a Green Paper too. (Or in whatever form of publication it prefers).
In a week when we have the chance to be #MakingCaringVsible our politicians have the opportunity to be #MakingCaringSustainable too. For if not now, then when?
PB Consulting provides the Secretariat to the APPG on Adult Social Care and works with a diverse range of organisations in the social care sector.
by Peter Hand, Account Manager