Where Was Social Care In The Budget?
By Sarah Bedford – New Economics Foundation: By 2046 almost one in four people will be 65 or older. So it is right that the Government’s industrial strategy, published this week, sets out as one of its four ‘Grand Challenges’ to meet the needs of our ageing society.
But if it were to take this mission seriously, it would surely have more to say about social care. A truly inventive approach would not hesitate to rethink, with the help of technology, how we learn, work and care for each other, build our homes and communities, and move around the places where we live. This strategy promises a world where we will work for longer. But it has less to say about our wellbeing as we age and rely increasingly on the care of friends, family and professionals.
Social care was conspicuously absent from last week’s Budget, and it only gets a fleeting mention in the industrial strategy. We are told it will be the job of the long-awaited Green Paper on social care to address the challenges facing the sector and to set out proposals for long-term, sustainable reform. Yet care, and a bold vision for care founded on skills, quality jobs and innovative housing, should be at the heart of the industrial strategy.
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Care must be reframed not as a cost, but as an engine of economic development and inclusive prosperity.
As Greg Clark says, a serious strategy must address the weaknesses in our economy. This means it cannot just lavish attention on high-tech industries clustered in big cities and research centres. We need to lift the productivity of low-paying sectors which exist everywhere and where many people work. Communities across the country, whether they are in towns, cities or rural areas, rely on social care. And too many vulnerable people are being let down by a sector on the brink of crisis. Cuts in local authority spending have left providers struggling to stay afloat. Nearly 1.2 million people who have difficulties with the basic tasks of everyday life now receive no help at all.
We all want to feel cared for by people, not robots.
A bold vision requires a change in attitudes. As we argue in our report about the social care sector and its importance to the West Midlands economy, care must be reframed not as a cost, but as an engine of economic development and inclusive prosperity. The sector employs nearly 1.5 million people and the workforce is growing. With investment, it has the potential to create twice as many jobs as construction. These jobs are sustainable because they have social skills at their core – we want to feel cared for by people, not robots.
It is paradoxical that an industrial strategy with ‘people’ as one of its five foundations nonetheless glosses over care. Social care has the potential to offer a rewarding career that is rich with skills development. But right now, many care jobs don’t reflect that. Pay is poor: care workers earn, on average, £9.73 an hour in the local authority sector and just £7.76 in the independent sector. Training is worryingly patchy. And turnover is high, with a third of care workers leaving their role within a year of starting. That means more than a quarter of a million leavers in the past 12 months.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Our best care providers are small, deliver community care and put people at the centre of that care. One way to harness innovation is to do more of this: nurturing an ecological system of community-scale care providers at the heart of a social care system that is a prime route to good jobs.
If the industrial strategy is truly mission-oriented, then it cannot afford to gloss over care. To meet the needs of our ageing society, and set us up to thrive, we must think boldly about care and we must do it now.