After years of privatisation, mismanagement and cuts, social care in the UK is now undoubtedly beyond crisis point. The Tory government clearly has no plan for social care. Labour must call for care to immediately be brought under public control and integrated into the NHS, to provide decent social care on the basis of needs not profits.
After years of privatisation, mismanagement and cuts, social care in the UK is now undoubtedly beyond crisis point.
The additional £2 billion allocated for social care in the recent spring Budget will change nothing. This emergency cash injection not only fails to address the funding gap in the short term, but also provides no long-term solution. The Tory government clearly has no plan for social care – nor can there be any way out of this problem within the confines of the crisis-ridden capitalist system.
As a result of decades of privatisation, independent companies provide 80% of care in the UK. In the hands of the capitalists, care homes are treated as profit-seeking investments, subject to the rules of the market.
With the onset of the economic crisis and the collapse in property values, many care providers now find themselves indebted to the big businesses that own them and the properties they manage. The choice is either closure, as with Southern Cross in 2011, or a dramatic reduction in costs – i.e. cuts. Both have damaging consequences for care workers and the people they support.
Hypocrisy of the bosses
Older people and their carers are consequently paying for a crisis created by the very capitalists who have profited from the privatisation of public services. But this hypocrisy is purposefully hidden behind fabricated excuses for the funding gap in social care, such as the small rise in the minimum wage.
As low-wage earners dominate the care sector, it is true that if all workers (over 25) are paid the legal minimum wage of £7.20 an hour, £600 million will be added to employee costs. However, this meagre rise in wages is nothing in comparison to the pay of the bosses. The Chief Executive of Bupa, for example, personally accumulates millions of pounds annually. These millionaires see no cuts to their wages – meanwhile employees are continually squeezed and standards in care homes plummet.
To counterbalance the new minimum wage, carers are losing jobs whilst remaining employees are forced to work ever longer shifts. This inevitably leads to poorer quality care. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has had its hands full in the last few years investigating care homes deemed to be inadequate. On top of staff shortages and low morale, the CQC has found that training needs are rarely met. With dementia and Alzheimer’s becoming increasingly prevalent in an ageing population, this puts workers and the most vulnerable in danger. It is understandable then that the sector has an annual staff turnover of 25% and relies heavily on agency workers.
Although the majority of care homes are privately owned, over half of their residents receive some funding from the state. Council funding is currently available when a person assessed as needing care has savings and assets worth less than £23,500. However, with £4.6 billion having been cut from social care budgets between 2010 and 2015, care homes are being forced to do more with less.
Take back control
Whilst a planned rise in council taxes will attempt to plug the hole in local authority spending, this will not be enough. The only immediate and long term solution is to bring care homes back under public control and integrate social care into the public healthcare system, with no compensation for the current owners and bosses whose pension pots are already bursting at the seams. For free, publically available social care as part of a fully-funded NHS: this is the key demand that Corbyn and the leaders of the labour movement should be making in relation to social care.
The need for nationalisation has never been greater. The Office of National Statistics estimates that there are currently 1.5 million people over 85 living in the UK. By 2050 this will have grown to 5 million. Meanwhile thousands of residential homes are being closed at an unprecedented rate. The NHS, already struggling with bed shortages, is forced to keep older people in hospital because they cannot receive care elsewhere. At a time when the need for good quality care is growing, capitalism is increasingly unable to provide.
With billions of pounds currently sitting idly in the bank accounts of big business, it is clear that enormous investments could be made in the NHS, public housing, and a skilled workforce if the key levers of the economy where under democratic and public control. As part of a planned economy, decent social care could be provided alongside homes and healthcare on the basis of need, not as an opportunity for profit. Care would be socialised and controlled by workers, communities, and residents, rather than through profiteering private equity firms.
Only with a bold socialist alternative can we build such a society and ensure all carers are paid good wages whilst working fewer hours. Only then will older people receive the high standards of care they deserve.
- Bring social care back into public control!
- For free, publically available social care, as part of fully-funded NHS!
- Nationalise the banks and big business in order to fund homes and healthcare for all!