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We need three things to make our social care system fit for the future: access to good quality care for every older and disabled person who needs it; more support for families to look after the people they love; and better care jobs so that paid careworkers can afford to stay in work and support their families as they care for ours. I will take each in turn.
First, it is a disgrace that in the 21st century, in one of the richest countries in the world, 1.5 million older people are not getting the basic help they need to get up, washed, dressed and fed—that is one in seven of the entire population aged over 65—and that figure will rise to 2 million in a decade’s time unless the Government change course. It goes without saying that this is not good for the people who need support to perform the functions of basic daily living, but it is not good either for the taxpayer, as more older people end up going into hospital and getting stuck there when they do not medically need to be there, with all the knock-on consequences that has for hospital waiting times and NHS budgets. We have got to stop treating the NHS and social care budgets separately, because they are inextricably linked, and we have got to stop fixating on hospitals, because the care system of the future lies in the community and closer to home.
Secondly, we need to give more help to families. Many of the UK’s 6.5 million unpaid family carers face a desperate daily struggle to look after their older or disabled relatives. They often feel pushed to breaking point financially, emotionally and physically. One in three carers have to give up work or reduce their hours because they cannot get the help they need to look after their loved ones, so they lose their income, the economy loses their talent and the Treasury loses their taxes. How does that make any sense? We no longer think parents should be forced to give up work to look after their children, so why do we accept it for those caring for elderly or disabled relatives?
Many of us on the Opposition Benches believe universal childcare to be as much a part of our economic infrastructure as the roads and railways. That we are living longer means we need to see social care, too, as an essential part of our economic infrastructure. With so many people now looking after their elderly mums and dads as well as their own children, we need to be thinking about universal family care and leave to meet the realities of modern life, because families should never have to choose between holding down a job and caring for their own.