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

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The far right rises as the Nordic welfare model is tested to breaking point by immigration

Writing from Stockholm, the New Statesman’s editor observes how mass immigration has tested the old Scandinavian model of welfare capitalism.

In the summer of 1999 I was commissioned by a Scandinavian magazine to write about the completion of the longest road-and-rail link in Europe, connecting Denmark and Sweden across the Øresund strait at the gateway to the Baltic Sea. I was a guest at the ceremony, along with assorted Swedish and Danish royalty, at which the final girder of the concrete and steel-cable-stayed bridge was fitted into place.

It was a cold day but the mood was joyful. The Øresund Fixed Link symbolised the new Europe of open borders and free movement of people. There was much excitement about the creation of an economic zone centred on Copenhagen but incorporating Malmö and the university town of Lund in Sweden. The Øresund Bridge has since become an icon of Scandinavian culture, in part because of the success of the noirish television crime series The Bridge, starring the blank-eyed Sofia Helin as the Swedish police detective Saga Norén, which fetishises the structure in its brilliantly stylised opening credits.

Emergency measures

Last autumn, after Angela Merkel declared that Germany’s borders were open to Syrian refugees, it was across the Øresund that tens of thousands of desperate people began arriving in Sweden, straining the country’s habitual openness to incomers. They were arriving not just from Syria but from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Eritrea and elsewhere in Africa – sometimes as many as 10,000 a week. In 2015, 163,000 people registered for asylum in Sweden, including 36,000 unaccompanied children. Many others are presumed to have entered the country illegally. (The comparative figure registering for asylum in Germany was 1.2 million and in Denmark 25,000. David Cameron has pledged to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees in Britain by 2020.)

There was a sense last November that Stefan Löfven’s minority Social Democratic government was losing control of the situation. As a result, Sweden was forced to introduce emergency border controls, as well as security checks for those arriving across the bridge from Denmark. The rules of the Schengen passport-free area allow for such measures to be enacted in a crisis. Denmark responded by tightening border controls with Germany as fences and barriers were erected across Europe in an attempt to stem the flow of refugees heading north along the so-called western Balkan route.

Sweden’s Blair

To the outsider, Sweden no longer seems to be a country at ease with itself. Mass immigration has tested the old Scandinavian model of welfare capitalism to near breaking point and resentment is festering. “Immigration is now the number one issue facing our country,” Johan Forssell told me when we met at the Riksdag in Stockholm. He is a former chief of staff for Fredrik Reinfeldt, prime minister from 2006-14. As a former leader of the Moderate Party, Reinfeldt is a conservative, but, in his commitment to free markets and open borders, the politician he most resembles is Tony Blair. I was a guest at a lunch for Reinfeldt in London last autumn, and, as he defended his immigration policies, I was struck above all by his liberalism.

In August 2014, in a celebrated speech, he called on his fellow Swedes to “open their hearts” and “show tolerance” to immigrants and asylum-seekers. The speech was received with derision. It surely contributed to the defeat of the Moderate-led centre-right coalition in the general election in which the far-right Sweden Democrats, led by Jimmie Åkesson, recorded their best ever performance, winning 49 out of 349 parliamentary seats. “It was a brave speech, but Freddie didn’t prepare the people for it,” one senior Swedish politician said to me.

Editorial positions

One afternoon I visited Peter Wolodarski, the 38-year-old editor-in-chief of Sweden’s leading quality daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter (“Today’s News”), at his office in Stockholm. The son of a Polish-Jewish architect who came to Sweden in the 1960s, Wolodarski is highly influential: editor, columnist and television commentator, and an unapologetic liberal internationalist. He likened his politics to David Miliband’s. In the past, Dagens Nyheter, which is privately owned by the Bonnier family, supported the then-hegemonic Social Democrats but, reflecting the fluidity and shifting alliances of Swedish politics, it now pursues what it describes as an “independently liberal” editorial position.

Wolodarski, who used to edit the comment pages, is slim and energetic and speaks perfect English. We discussed the EU referendum in Britain, which alarmed and mystified him, and Islamist terror as well as the rise of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats. Security at the Dagens Nyheter offices has been tightened considerably since the Charlie Hebdo massacre – Wolodarski’s paper as well as others in the group republished Charlie cartoons – and it has been reported that as many as 300 Swedish nationals are fighting for Isis in Syria. One Swede, Osama Krayem, is suspected of being part of the group that carried out the Brussels attacks in March. The Sweden Democrats have seized on this as further evidence of the failures of Nordic multiculturalism.

A refugee’s story

One morning I visited a refugee registration centre in Märsta in the northern suburbs. The people there were fleeing war or persecution. Each was waiting to discover where next they would be moved while their asylum application was processed.

One young, secular Muslim woman from Gambia told me she was escaping an arranged marriage (to her mother’s polygamous brother, who was in his sixties) and the horror of female genital mutilation. Articulate and frustrated, she wept as we talked. The next day, I received an email from her. She was now in a small town in the far north. “It is remote here and cold,” she wrote. And then she wished me a “safe return journey” to London.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred