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Unpaid family carers need family-friendly working arrangements so that they can balance their work and caring responsibilities; they need an NHS that recognises that their own physical and mental health could suffer too, and they need to know that we are there to support them. Rather than criticising families and saying that they should be doing more, we should acknowledge that many carers have not had a break for weeks, months or even years. We have to change that, because this is not going to happen to somebody else. This is going to happen to every single one of us here.
Thirdly, we need better care jobs. Paid careworkers do some of the most important work in the country, looking after the people whom we love, but many struggle on low pay and zero-hours contracts, with high levels of stress and little training. No wonder staff turnover and vacancy rates are so high, although the vast majority of careworkers say they love the work that they do. We need a comprehensive strategy to improve the pay, professional development and employment security of care staff, and we desperately need to increase the number of careworkers too. We shall need more than half a million more careworkers in a decade’s time, not to improve the care system by providing better quality or wider access, but just to meet increasing demand.
That is why the points-based immigration system announced by the Government will be a disaster. If we already need more than half a million extra careworkers just to meet levels of demand, how on earth will we cope with that new system? It will not be possible. I beg the Minister to meet me, and others, to discuss the development of a separate route into social care in the migration system of the future, because otherwise we simply will not cope.
None of those changes—improving access to care, more support for families and better care jobs—can be delivered on the cheap, but the truth is that families, the NHS and our economy as a whole cannot afford for us not take action. We need, first, an immediate and significant injection of cash into the system in next month’s Budget, and, secondly, a long-term plan for investment and reform. Any new funding system must work for disabled adults as well as older people. It must strike the right balance between individuals and the state. I, for one, strongly believe that we should pool our resources and share our risks rather than leaving people to cope alone. The system must also be fair across the generations. I do not believe that the working-age population should pay for all the additional costs of caring for our ageing population Wealthier older people will need to make a contribution too.
Alongside this funding reform must be a change in the way in which social care is provided, so that it is not just about time slots and tasks simply to keep people alive, but about offering great support how, where and when people want it, so that they can lead the lives that they and their families choose.
This radical reform of social care is just one of the changes that we must make to meet the needs of our ageing population, which is one of the biggest challenges that we face as a country. We need to change our housing so that it helps people to live independently at home for longer. We need to reform the world of work so that, as we live for longer, we can work for longer and more flexibly. We need to change our health services so that they keep people fitter and healthier for longer as we live for longer. None of those things will be easy, but if we want to meet the challenge of our ageing population and if we want to make Britain the best country in the world in which to grow old, we need to grasp this nettle, and we need to do it now.