Andy Burnham addresses the Labour conference in Manchester in 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Social care reform will be a big vote winner for Labour

Burnham’s plan shows the party grappling with the kind of real world problems it would face in office. 

Labour’s big challenge ahead of its National Policy Forum meeting next month is to distil four years’ of abstract theorising, and often worthy but complex ideas, into a clear quality of life prospectus, the so-called "retail offer" for voters.

A classic example is access to childcare. This is a nightmarish issue for millions of parents, fusing together worries over affordability and quality of provision for a service that now counts as a cornerstone of a modern welfare state. But at the other end of the age spectrum – and equally worthy of being counted as a retail issue for voters – is the cost, quality and accessibility of social care for adults.

The public is already convinced it’s an issue. According to a 2012 poll by Carers UK, nearly half of adults in England (46 per cent) knew someone in their family who needed care and support with basic everyday tasks like eating, washing and dressing. In addition, 89 per of voters didn’t think it was fair that older and disabled people paid for the costs of their care.

Yet a recent report by the King’s Fund, led by economist Kate Barker, found that patients with different conditions like cancer and dementia ending up "making very different contributions to the cost" because the free entitlements of NHS care clash with the means-testing of the social care system. In a telling phrase, she found that the mismatched relationship between the NHS and local authorities, who are responsible for social care, means that the current systems "rub up against each other like bones in a fracture." She recommended a single, ring-fenced health and social care budget, ending the current salami-slicing of care provision.

And sliced it is. Age UK’s recent Care in Crisis report found that since 2010, spending on social care has dropped by £1.2bn (or 15.4 per cent). This squeeze on the finances of the social care system leaves "hundreds of thousands" of older people who have "moderate" needs, like help with getting dressed, without any assistance from their local council. The charity reckons that nearly nine out of ten local authorities have now limited their threshold for supporting elderly adults to those with "substantial" needs.

The current system is a complete mess, resulting in a postcode lottery of provision, with all the associated worry this causes. The belief is that integration will iron-out differential performance and entitlements in the care sector and help to reduce costs, with a recent survey by accountants PWC finding that 85 per cent of council leaders and chief executives agreed that integration would improve care outcomes.

This is shadow health secretary Andy Burnham’s big idea. He has long championed greater integration, indeed, one of the high points of the 2010 Labour leadership campaign, (amid the bromides and false bonhomie) was Burnham putting this idea into the mix. Although largely a technical change, Burnham’s plan speaks to voters’ fears about the standards of care their elderly relatives will receive - and whether or not their savings will be spent paying for it - classic retail politics territory.

But Burnham’s plan is also important because it shows Labour grappling with the kind of real world problems it will have to face up to if the party wins next year’s general election. Governing effectively after 2015 depends on being clear about priorities, being willing to innovate in the way services are provided and make less money stretch further. And nowhere is this more pressing than in dealing with the future of social care.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut and a former special adviser at the Northern Ireland office. 

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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