No-one watching the Panarama programme on the crisis in social care in Somerset recently could fail to be deeply moved. At a preview screening, the economist Andrew Dilnot, author of the Dilnet Report on Social Care, said he wept.[i] The programme on May 30 was the first of two on the care crisis in local authorities.
Most Councils are under huge financial pressure, with some on the verge of bankruptcy, struggling to meet the needs of a small percentage of their population after years of government under-funding of social care. The Kings Fund, an English health care charity said, ‘‘This is the national picture on social care funding – when you account for inflation we’re spending £700m less than in 2010/11.’[ii] Yet in that same period care needs have doubled, largely because of an ageing population.
In opening its doors to a film crew for 10 months Somerset County Council showed the human tragedies behind the statistics – the daughter caring for her mother with severe dementia, desperate for the smallest respite after the only Day Centre that would take her closed: the profoundly disabled man saying how grateful he was for the care he is being given but that the only way to ease the burden on his wife because his care is ‘too expensive’ was to take his own life, the mother of three so crippled that she needs 24 hour care whose husband is so exhausted that social workers fear he may collapse, and others whose care needs could only be met in part.
Meeting the care needs of 6,500 people in Somerset takes 42% of the Council’s budget of £320 million. Adding children’s services consumes a total of 60%. These are statutory obligations, so other services must be cut – such as libraries, Citizens Advice and road gritting. The care budget must also be cut. Last winter, the government gave Somerset an extra £10m for potholes and only £2 million for care.[iii] During a Council meeting we saw Steve Chandler, the Director of Social Services leave the room to take a call from Westminster, only to return shaking his head and saying that there would be no more money.
We saw Steve Chandler almost in tears as he described the stress he and his team work under as care needs increase, but their budget is cut, yet again. This year it has to be slashed by another £4 million.
MPs not bothered by us.
In a BBC interview before the programme, Andrew Dilnot was asked why, in the face of such a growing human crisis, successive Governments have not provided adequate funding. He said that it was because MPs ‘don’t have it in their postboxes’. In other words, there has been no protest. Sir Andrew recommends an increase in tax, which includes older people to fund a proper level of social care. But Governments shy from increasing income tax in case it sways voters against them.
This is not the way a civilized society should treat its most vulnerable. In an interview on Premier Radio I was asked what churches could do. I said that as Christians we are told to bear one another’s burdens. We are also called to be a voice for the helpless. We can support and befriend caregivers, like those we saw on Panarama. We can be there for them in a multitude of little things – when they need to have the grass cut, or shopping done, or whatever is needed. And we can all email or write to our MPs saying that we support a tax increase to provide a funding stream for social care, and would he or she please bring it to Parliament. Top of Form
[ii] Twitter #socialcare