Cutting the budget for social care is a false economy

Social care is higher on the political agenda than at any time during the last few Parliaments, and yet disabled and older people now face a worse situation than when it was a low-profile issue.

The Care Bill is in Parliament for its second reading today and although in principle it seems to be a turning point for the current ineffective social care system, if the right amount of funding isn’t released from central Government, the laudable aspirations of the Bill will never be realised. Chronic underfunding has left many disabled people without the support they need and MPs must take this golden opportunity to improve social care for some of the most disadvantaged people in society.

Social care is higher on the political agenda than at any time during the last few Parliaments, and yet disabled and older people now face a worse situation. Successive attempts to improve the system – community care, direct payments, personalisation – have been implemented to varying degrees in different areas, creating a post code lottery. Underpinning it all is the ever tightening financial pressures under which local authorities struggle to deliver. Social care isn’t an issue that will ever go away. People with disabilities and older people will always need support and inevitably funding and adequate provision will always be a big political issue. As the population ages, the number of people needing social care is set to rise, and as a society we desperately need this latest piece of legislation to work for everyone, disabled and older people and their families.

Over the past year there have been unprecedented cuts to the amount of social care disabled people receive. The numbers receiving support are dropping while the numbers needing support rise year on year. Just today LSE research has shown half a million older and disabled people have fallen out of social care in the last five years. And the group seeing the biggest drop are people with sight loss, including deafblind people.

But cutting the budget for social care is a false economy. As people reach crisis point they can become more susceptible to falls or require hospital treatment, or drop out of employment and claim benefits, because they didn’t get the support they needed from social care. Not to mention the human cost, as people experience intense loneliness and isolation if they are unable to leave the house without support and can result in them needing counseling or mental health support.

The new buzzword in social care is integration. Currently, social care is paid for by local authorities and health care is provided for centrally. This means that many people with long term needs end up being shunted from one to the other as both try and avoid the cost or view one problem as health and another problem as social care. Proposals to integrate the two have been around for years, but finally they seem to be gathering momentum with a new integration fund.

Integration offers significant opportunities, both to improve things for the individual and to make more efficient use of resources by investing in preventative care. If people with disabilities are provided with adequate levels of social care they require less expensive treatment from the NHS in the long term. But we shouldn’t underestimate how politically difficult it will be to make the shift from acute services to community services.

All political parties see integration of health and social care as critical to the necessary transformation of services to address the funding crisis. Labour would perhaps go further than the current government, but all agree on the principles. Rarely do we have such consensus from the political parties on the issue so perhaps this is a positive sign.

Over the past year many disabled people, including the deafblind people that Sense supports, have been pushed to breaking point. They have been hit by the bedroom tax, struggled with changes to the benefit system and many have faced huge cuts to their social care, leaving them without the support they desperately need to live full and active lives. When we talk about social care, we aren’t just talking personal care and help getting washed and dressed. We’re also talking about ensuring that people can exercise, get to medical appointments and have a life outside of the home. One of the welcome features of the Bill is that it focuses social care on a broad concept of well-being. But this is also the part of the Bill most likely to fail if the funding is not there to deliver. We desperately need MPs to put our money where their mouths are and make sure that this materialises.

Sue Brown is head of public policy and campaigns at Sense

 

Older people will always need support and inevitably funding and adequate provision will always be a big political issue. Photo: Getty

Sue Brown is head of public policy and campaigns at Sense

Getty
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Locals without borders: governments are using diasporas to shape the migration crisis

Governments of countries key to the migration crisis are tapping diaspora influence more than ever before.

Last month, on 21 June, thousands of Eritreans descended on Geneva and marched across the city, finally stopping at the Place des Nations in front of the UN. The demonstrators had come from across Europe: Italy, Germany, London, and a young man who looked blankly at my French and English questions before exclaiming “Svenska!” (“Swedish!”).

They were here to denounce a recent report by the UN Human Rights Council condemning widespread violations of basic rights in Eritrea. According to the protesters, the report was based on shoddy research and is biased and politically-motivated: “Stop regime change agendas!” said one banner.

Two days later, a similarly sized group of Eritreans marched in the same direction, for the opposite reason. This contingent, 10,000-strong according to the organisers, wanted to show their backing for the report, which highlights many of the problems that led them to leave the Horn of Africa in the first place. Forced conscription, extrajudicial killings, and official impunity, all pinpointed by the UN inquiry, have driven a mass exodus to the surrounding region and beyond. In 2015 alone, 47,025 Eritreans crossed the Mediterranean to request asylum in Europe.

Two things stood out. First was the sharp polarisation of the Eritrean diaspora community in Europe, which muddies the waters for outsiders trying to make sense of the situation: how can one side say everything is fine while the other claims massive abuses of rights?

Second was the sheer engagement of this diaspora, some of whom may never have set foot in Eritrea. They had come from across Europe, with or without the help of funding, to stand on a rainy square and fight for the narrative of their nation.

As an Irishman abroad, would I have the commitment to jump on a plane for a political protest with no certain outcome? I probably wouldn’t, but then again my country is not just 25 years old and still struggling to define itself on the international stage.

Individual stakes are also much higher for people like Abraham, an Eritrean in Switzerland who told me how he was forced into the army for seven years before managing to escape via Sudan two years ago. With two children still in Asmara, he has significant skin in the game.

As for the naysayers, they are also under certain pressure. Some reports suggest that the government in Asmara exercises extensive power in certain diaspora circles, threatening to cancel the citizenship of those who denounce the regime or refuse to pay 2 per cent income tax each year.

Ultimately, such a situation can only lead to a committed kind of polarisation where pro-government supporters need to publicly demonstrate their backing, and the anti-government kind have nothing left to lose.

But on a more benign level, the idea of states systematically harnessing the power of the diaspora for domestic gains has also been growing elsewhere – including in Ireland. Historically a nation of emigrants, Ireland has seen its diaspora swell even further following the economic downturn: OECD figures estimate that one in six Irish-born people now live abroad.

In an age of networks and soft power, this represents a sizeable demographic, and a well-educated and well-off one to boot. The government has clearly recognized this. In 2009, the first Global Irish Economic Forum was held to tap into the business know-how of expats, and has since taken place biannually.

More importantly, two years ago the first Minister for the Diaspora was appointed, tasked with taking overall charge of engagement efforts: no longer simply cultural ambassadors operating Irish bars abroad, emigrants are economic and political seeds to be cultivated. A referendum is planned next year on whether to grant them the right to vote from abroad in presidential elections.

Elsewhere, in Germany, the 3m-strong Turkish population has attracted renewed interest from the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in recent years. According to a 2014 paper by think tank SWP, Ankara now explicitly designates these Turks abroad as a “diaspora” rather than a scattered group, and adopts clear public diplomacy efforts, channelled through cultural centres, to tap their influence.

This has sometimes rankled in Berlin: although Ankara’s diaspora policy encourages citizens to learn German and integrate into German society, the underlying motivation is one of Turkish self-interest rather than benign assimilation. In a battle for the front-foot, German immigration policy clashes with Turkish emigration policy.

Intra-EU movements, largely unhampered by visa questions, have also become substantial enough to warrant attention. For example, hit hard by the economic downturn and austerity measures, many educated Spaniards and Portuguese have flocked to Northern European cities to seek employment.

London, a melting pot of diasporas from all over the world, is reportedly home to more French people than Bordeaux: together they would make up the sixth largest city in France. As countries continue to rebuild following the financial crisis, forging a connection to the skills and political power of such emigrants is a policy imperative.

And if no other EU country, aside from Ireland, has introduced a dedicated minister for this, the growing economic potentials may spur them to do so.

Diasporas have been around for millennia. Why are governments getting so interested now? And what does it mean for the future of citizenship, nationality, and identity?

Technology is one obvious game-changer. Diasporas not only have more options to keep in touch with their home country, but with so much of daily life now happening on virtual platforms, they also have less reason to integrate in their host society.

It is now almost feasible to ignore the surrounding communities and live quite comfortably in a bubble of media and connections from back home. This then works both ways, with governments increasingly willing to use such communications to maintain links. The “imagined spaces” of nations are morphing into “virtual spaces”, with unpredictable consequences for traditional models of integration.

Marco Funk, a researcher at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Brussels, says that the growing ease of mobility compounds the idea of “people moving from one country to another and staying there” as simply out-of-date.

The coming years, he says, will be marked by patterns of “circular migration”, where citizens hop from one country to another as whim and economic opportunity arise. Governments, especially in an increasingly stagnant Europe, will likely try to beef up links with this mobile generation, especially since it is often pulled from the more educated classes.

Fearing a “brain drain”, yet unable to keep the talent at home, they may foster a more fluid system of “brain exchange”: the diaspora as a mobile resource rather than physical loss.

Of course, none of this will be straightforward, especially at a time when a major fault-line around the world is the future of globalisation and migration. An uptick in nationalist tendencies may mean that diasporas will find themselves (once again) unwilling pawns on a political chessboard, protected or manipulated by governments back home while scapegoated by segments of their host societies.

But one thing is sure: even as walls are rebuilt, diasporas will not disappear, and governments are recognising their power. All politics may remain local, but the local now knows no bounds.