OPINION

We all deserve genuine social care reform for dignity as we age

The promises emblazoned on the side of a bus claimed £350 million a week would be delivered to the NHS – but instead the Conservative government has delivered nothing but chaos.

A disastrous EU exit, a failed response to the pandemic plus a decade of cuts has created a perfect storm.

From supply chain problems affecting blood test kits, to staff shortages, chronic low pay and decimated public sector budgets, health care is in a crisis.

Forgotten in the picture is adult social care. As the pandemic hit, care for the elderly reached a tipping point.

Councils like ours are at the forefront of the response, helping some of the most marginalised people – most of whom are priced out of costly private care.

But with cuts of more than £86 million made to local care services over the past 10 years, social care was already on its knees – with services unable to keep up with increasing demand.

So we’ve repeated our urgent call for government to kick-start meaningful, lasting change. We want to see increased funding – and inequality and disgraceful low pay in the private care system tackled – and joined up health and care services.

The government’s proposed solution? A £36 billion tax hike over three years to cover the cost of their mistakes, achieved initially through another unfair tax: national insurance.

Funding is certainly urgently needed – but this plan means some of the poorest and the youngest will be asked to pay the price for chronic underfunding.

And the richest will be given yet another way to avoid paying their share, including those earning over £50,000, landlords and those who earn income from shares or bonds.

The working poor will pay, while the asset rich get away without contributing.

What’s more, after over 10 years of devastating austerity cuts, only 15 per cent of the money intended to “fix social care” will actually end up where it’s needed.

Instead of urgent reform we’re being handed a sticking plaster. We continue to take this issue direct to government as the cost of adult social care is hitting the city’s budget hard – and, like councils up and down the country, we are forced to make cuts to pay for it.

Demand far outstrips available funding, yet the government told us to pay for it by putting up council tax. Though we await crucial details on how the latest plans for social care will work – and whether this money will even go to local councils – we continue to call for genuine reform, not more unfair taxation.

But solving the funding crisis isn’t impossible. The government’s budget for the wasteful nuclear “deterrent” Trident is an eye-watering £41 billion.

While throughout the covid-19 pandemic, from “Eat Out to Help Out” to the multibillion-pound private contracts for botched test and trace providers, the government can find funding when it wants to.

Much more than just funding, we need reform of a broken system and share calls for a National Care System that functions like the NHS – so everyone enjoys dignity whatever their age or health.

The pandemic showed once again the importance of adequately staffed and resourced health and social care.

In the past week I’ve been once again reminded of the benefits of joined up care, delivered not for profit and with universal access in mind.

Last Thursday I was proud to welcome the executive director of UNAIDS, Winnie Byanyima, to the city. She leads the United Nations’ efforts to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

This visit recognises the inspiring work taking place in Brighton and Hove – and the unique partnerships that characterise the excellent local response.

Winnie Byanyima

The “Towards Zero HIV Taskforce” – brings together community groups, the council, patients, academics and health clinicians to achieve zero HIV stigma, zero new HIV infections and zero deaths from HIV in the city.

Community groups, charities, NHS staff and council public health teams share information, provide treatment and support and help combat stigma.

Teams are already successfully ensuring people know their status and can access treatment. Initiatives like the vending machine at the Jubilee Library that dispenses HIV and sexual health test kits are award winning.

Fantastic organisations across the city – like Lunch Positive, the Martin Fisher Foundation and the Sussex Beacon provide outstanding local care and support to those in need – from prevention to supporting people with diagnosis and treatment.

They work with national organisations such as the Terrence Higgins Trust, National AIDS Trust and the Elton John Foundation.

We’ll keep pushing for a long-term solution and proper local and democratic control over health and adult social care.

But as we reflect on what more can be done and how far the city has come, it’s obvious that good health and social care is a win-win for everybody.

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty is the Green leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.

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