It’s not a bug, it’s a feature

The Government sees family as the default for social care and has not got it’s head around the fact that for hundreds of thousands of people this simply isn’t an option.

While many people enjoy a long and happy later life, older people often need care and support to help maintain their independence, and the role of family carers is critical in helping older people to  live independently for as long as possible. 92% of all unpaid care is provided by family and 20% of  people over 85 rely solely on their adult children for  care. However, family and society in the UK have changed completely over the last 50 years; one of the most significant changes has been the doubling of the numbers of people who have not become parents, going from 9% of those born in the 1940s to 20% of those born in the 1960s. This means that in the UK there are already 1.2 million people over the age of 65 who have not become parents and by 2030 this will double to over 2 million. By 2032, there will be an 80% increase in older people who are both single, without children and have a disability. People ageing without children are 25% more likely to go into long term care and 30% more likely to be a carer for their own parents. Research by the Office for National Statistics indicates that by 2045 there will be 3 times as many people over 80 without children.

The Covid19 pandemic has shown a harsh spotlight on the problems of social care: how it is funded, how it is organized, the workforce challenges and above all the powerlessness of the people who use it. However, diffocutlies with social care were well known and documented long before this and in 2019 Boris Johnson said

“We will fix the crisis in social care once and for all – with a clear plan we have prepared.” Boris Johnson 2019

However, it seems that Boris Johnson like many others before him has now put social care in the “too difficult” box with no plan appearing to be forthcoming this year. Reforming social care is undoubtedly difficult but there are other factors at play here, most crucially a deep rooted belief that ultimately care for older people is the responsibility of their family

As it became clear that a plan for social care was unlikely to be in the Queen’s Speech, stories quickly circulated in the media about why this was, both blaming the cost of reform and also the inability of government officials to persuade ministers of the level of reform required

A source told the Local Government Chronicle

“this is traditional Conservative territory – the assumption is families should help out as much as possible but we should protect inheritances of the British middle class. It is a relatively narrow vision that social care’s job is to provide not much more than a safety net.”

If that sounds very familiar it is because  we have been here before

“A wholesale repairing of the social contract so that children see their parents giving wonderful care to grandparents – and recognise that in time that will be their responsibility too” Jeremy Hunt SEcretray of State for Health 2015

“all sorts of things suggest that more people will probably have a mum or dad living with them at some stage in the future – and that housing changes will flow from that.’ Alistair Burt Minister for Social Care 2015

“We need to start thinking as a society about how we deal with care of our own parents. Nobody ever questions that we look after our children, that’s obvious. Nobody ever says it is a caring responsibility, it’s just what you do. ‘Some of that logic and some of way we think about that, in terms of volume of numbers that we are seeing coming down the track, will have to impinge on the way we start thinking about looking after our parents” David Mowat Minister for Social care 2017

“Families have a responsibility to support their relative themselves as much as they can, whether at home or in residential care” Danny Kruger MP, The Care Commitment: A new model of social care for England 2020

The idea that family should be responsible for older people is not a bug, it is a feature of Government thinking. The fundamental problem is that ultimately Government sees social care as the responsibility of the family, and any state provision as a last resort. Consequently, it is unlikely to invest much time in thinking about it creatively.

Which means that we have to…..

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