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I pay tribute to Rachel Hopkins for making such a powerful speech.
I want to talk a little bit about technology, but before I do so, I just want to make a quick point. We talked earlier about an ageing population and the word burden was used a few times. I just want to send a message from the Chamber to anyone who is a member of the older generation. They should never feel that they are a burden. People using the social care system should never feel that they are a burden on the system. It is the older generations who built the foundation on which we now stand. They are the generations we should care for because they cared for us. They are the ones who enabled us to have the lives we lead and the freedoms we have, so I do not believe that the word burden should ever be used in relation to older people.
One of the challenges in society—I have talked about loneliness in the Chamber before—is the isolation that people can feel. When it comes to caring, there is an ongoing sense of isolation for both carers and those being cared for. The trouble with that is not just the challenges around social care—how to reach people, how to visit them or how to get nurses or doctors to them—but a real loss to society. What we lose by isolating older generations in particular is their wisdom. It is the stories of their lives and the passion they had once that they may now feel has been diminished. The opportunity we have through social care is not just to fix bones or mend injuries, but to release those stories. The stories people share enable us, as a society, to be stronger through the lessons they have learned in their lives.
That is important to me, because of one aspect not often talked about when we talk about health generally, and social care in particular: the role of technology. Technology is not just there for us to Google an answer or share a tweet. It can also be there to connect the dots. The lifeblood of the beating heart of society is in the charities and organisations that go out and help, and in the people who really care for others. One challenge is to ensure that we do not lose those interconnections. Before Christmas I went out with a fantastic organisation, Small Acts of Kindness, run by Lynne Misner, which helps people who are struggling with loneliness and the drop in temperatures and who need blankets. Another amazing lady, Margaret Hudson, cooks for the lonely and isolated on Fridays in Watford.
I mention them, because they are all little dots across the whole of Watford and the country that we are not connecting. There is an opportunity here for us to use technology in a different way. Businesses increasingly use data to create a single customer view, which connects the dots of customers in the private world so they know what they are buying, where they are sharing content, what they are talking about and what they are interested in. Sadly, in the private world that is used for advertising. However, we can look at the social system and the NHS in the round, and start to look at people not in isolation—whether they have broken a bone, had a fall, where they live or how old they are—and connect the dots so that we can start to say, “How do we look at them as human beings and look at their life stories, and what that might mean for how we predict what might happen to them.” Somebody with the onset of arthritis in their in their 60s no doubt has the potential to get worse in their 70s, 80s and 90s, so why do we not start to plan early on?
We should therefore not just look at technology, the social care system and data in isolation. We need to look at pathways for people as they get older, so we can start to predict how injuries might happen and what issues might come up. We can use that information to create a more cohesive society, so that everybody who touches that person’s life in some way can feed into it and make a difference. The idea of watching people might sound like a scary big brother moment to some, but if we do it in the right way, we will save the economy millions, if not billions, because we will have predicted things and prevented them. We will also have made life better for so many more people in our community.
Let us work together. Let us not put up political barriers and be isolationist in how we look at the world and challenge the problem. Let us work across the House. Let us put people before politics. Let us make sure that together we make a better country for anybody who needs social care. We can make a real difference together. In four or five years’ time, the whole of the electorate will benefit. More importantly, society will benefit too.