The big beasts of politics have once again ducked the crucial issues around funding in today’s social care white paper
We are moving through the menagerie of government as the number of people needing care and support increases.
Firstly, politicians were ostrich-like with their heads buried in the sand ignoring an issue which we all knew would have to be tackled.
Then rabbit-like as heads came out of the sand, the politicians were frozen in the headlights, terrified of increasing taxation or of telling rich and middle-income older people they would have to pool some of their savings to fund care fairly for all.
Today we have the meerkat politicians standing up amongst the long grass where the issue of care funding was previously kicked and scanning the horizon to see how the wind of press and public opinion blows. They are desperately hoping that a consensus or at least a majority view about funding will emerge.
What we really need are lion-like politicians able to form one pride across political parties and brave enough to bite on the funding issue. And funding care and support out of general taxation is always going to be the fairest and simplest way forward.
It is also affordable, but it does mean tackling the obscene wealth and tax avoidance of a minority. The problem is that too many of the powerful big beasts are themselves extremely rich and they and their friends are not inclined to be a part of the care and support funding solution.
There is much which is good in today’s white paper. For example, not many would want to argue that we should retain the old Poor Law-based policies that every parish should differently determine who gets help, with big risks if you move over the parish boundary as the new parish may give you no help.
But sensible as a ‘national care service’ may be, if every parish – we now call them local authorities – has to find the money to fund its care and support services there will still be a post-code lottery with different areas interpreting national criteria differently.
So that’s it really. It may seem like a jungle out there but for those needing care and support, and those trying to provide it, it feels more like a desert. The public funding is drying up. Until this drought is addressed there will no solution.
Ray Jones is professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London and was formerly director of social services in Wiltshire