The social care system is on its knees: what is the Chancellor going to do?

This week's Spending Review and next week's Lords debate of the Care Bill provide the government with opportunities to start solving our care crisis.

On Wednesday millions of older and disabled people who rely on support from their council to get up, get washed and dressed and get out will be closely following the Chancellor’s Spending Review.

The social care system is on its knees.

Budget cuts to councils have seen them upping the bar for eligibility for support, with 83 per cent of councils now setting the threshold at a higher level. According to London School of Economics 69,000 disabled people have been pushed out of the system.

At the same time many are squeezing the support for those that are in the system. A Scope survey found almost 40 per cent of disabled people who continue to receive social care support are not having their basic needs met including eating properly, washing, dressing or being able to get out of the house.

The consequences are dire. Take away the preventative support and people fall into crisis.

It’s no surprise that there’s now a widening consensus that the crisis in local care is a factor in the pressures on A&E.

It’s also no surprise that there’s cross-sector and cross party backing for the Chancellor to use the Spending Review to invest in preventative social care.

Intriguingly on Friday there were strong hints that the Department for Communities and Local Government, while potentially taking a 10 per cent budget cut, could take responsibility for £3bn from other departments' budgets.

The momentum is there and social care looks set to be a crucial Spending Review issue.

But in case the Chancellor needs further convincing let me introduce Angela Murray.

Angela is an independent, sociable young woman who has a degree in psychology. She volunteers three days a week. She’s also disabled; she was hit by a car when she was two.

For the last ten years, she’s lived in her own home and has had support from her council to get up, get washed, get dressed, go to the toilet, cook, eat and shop.

But recently her social worker told her that her care was being cut from 20 hours-a-day to just three hours. Angela was given five days’ notice.

Angela described her new care routine as ‘depressing and undignified’. She had to be in bed at 9.30pm every night. She also lived off microwave meals because her 30 minute evening call didn’t give the carer enough time to cook for Angela as well as take her to the toilet.

Angela says if she has to live under that regime for the next 50 years, life would not be worth living. She’s fighting back: the local media have already covered Angela’s story and she has a solicitor on board fighting the changes.

The council, reluctantly, agreed to temporarily reinstate Angela’s old care package until a second reassessment, when her care package is likely to be cut again.

And while we’re at it, let me also introduce the 45,000 members of the public who have signed Angela’s petition calling on the Chancellor to invest in social care. It’s clear that Britain cares about social care.

Wednesday will be crucial. But it doesn’t stop there.

The following week the Government will publish its plans for deciding who is in and out of the social care system. This is critical.

The announcement will come as the Care Bill is debated in the Lords. The reforms seek to tackle the crisis in care by introducing a cap on costs, a new means-testing threshold and national eligibility to end the postcode lottery in care.

But the plans, as they are, will also raise the bar for eligibility to social care (see p32 of the White Paper). According to the London School of Economics (LSE) this will leave 105,000 disabled people outside of the system altogether.

If the Chancellor takes the opportunity to invest in social care, that cash needs to be channelled into a system in which disabled people are eligible for care before their situation has deteriorated into crisis.

Properly funded social care is now a ‘no brainer’.

Research by Deloitte has shown that investing in £1.2bn in social care for disabled people will result in a £700m return for central Government and £570m return for local Government and NHS, because it prevents disabled people falling into crisis and needing to access more costly support.

By acting decisively the Chancellor can go a long way to solving the social care crisis, protect A&Es, and save cash across government departments. It’s a triple win.

But the Government will only be able to claim that it’s solved the social care crisis once it has decided who is in and who is out of the system.

Richard Hawkes is chief executive of the disability charity Scope

Take away the preventative support and people fall into crisis. Photograph: Getty Images

Richard Hawkes is chief executive of the disability charity Scope.

Ellie Foreman-Peck
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Martin Schulz: could this man bring an end to the reign of Angela Merkel?

The German Eurocrat is the biggest threat to the possibility of a fourth term for Merkel. 

At first sight, Martin Schulz looks like an unlikely political saviour. Thin of hair and thick of waist, the 61-year-old was a member of the European Parliament for 23 years and its president for five. In an anti-establishment age, it was predicted that Schulz would struggle when he became the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) candidate to replace Angela Merkel as the German chancellor in January. Instead, he is spearheading a remarkable revival in his tribe’s fortunes. On 19 February, for the first time in a decade, the SPD polled above Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), attracting 33 per cent to their 32 per cent. The SPD vote share has increased by 12 points in a month. The cause is clear: “Martin mania”.

For months, it was assumed that Merkel would secure a fourth term as chancellor in September’s federal election. The SPD, the grandfather of European social democracy and Germany’s oldest party (it was founded in 1863), had polled as low as 19 per cent. After forming a grand coalition with the CDU in 2013, Schulz’s party was marginalised as Merkel claimed credit for policies such as the country’s first minimum wage. Voters defected to the far-left Die Linke and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland. The SPD’s future looked to be one of managed decline.

Sigmar Gabriel, the party’s leader since 2009, stood little chance of supplanting Merkel as chancellor. As a result, like François Hollande, he reached for the pearl-handled revolver: he announced his intention to step aside on 24 January after internal SPD polling showed that Schulz would perform significantly better against Merkel. “It was not an easy decision but I’m convinced it was the right decision,” Gabriel told reporters. His judgement was vindicated as public polls gave Schulz an 11-point lead over Merkel (49-38).

The German chancellor’s apparent unassailability owed less to her strength than to her opponents’ weakness. Eleven years after she entered office, voters had grown weary of Merkel’s leadership but saw no viable alternative. In Schulz, they have found one. Having been engaged at EU level and held no domestic office since standing down after 11 years as mayor of the north-western market town Würselen in 1998, Schulz has been embraced by voters as a relative outsider.

Unlike his SPD colleagues, Schulz can criticise the CDU’s record without appearing hypocritical or feeble. He has attracted voters with a centre-left emphasis on redistribution and social justice. “When people see that their taxes are used to give their children a future, they buy into it,” Schulz has said in interviews.

The European Parliament has been a useful platform for his pugnacious style. He is best known for being compared to a concentration camp guard by Silvio Berlusconi in 2003 and for his interjection in 2010 after Nigel Farage branded the then EU president, Herman Van Rompuy, a “damp rag”. Schulz retorted: “It’s not right that this man should be able to trample over the dignity of this house!”

Voters have warmed to Schulz’s personal story as well as his political history. He was born on 20 December 1955 in the village of Hehlrath, North-Rhine Westphalia, to a policeman father and a homemaker mother (he is the youngest of five). Rather than going to university, he trained as a bookseller and was a promising footballer. Two severe knee injuries ended his playing career at the age of 18 and he sought refuge in alcohol after falling into depression. Having contemplated suicide, he recovered to open a bookshop in his home town (which he ran until he became an MEP in 1994) and has been teetotal since 1980.

Schulz educated himself by devouring historical fiction (his favourite writers are John Steinbeck and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa) and retains the restlessness of an autodidact (he often works 18-hour days). His bonhomie and blunt manner appeal to voters who regard Merkel as aloof.

That Schulz has come to the SPD’s rescue is unsurprising. He joined the party at the age of 19 and became the youngest mayor in North-Rhine Westphalia when he was elected in Würselen at 31. After more than two decades serving the EU, the attractions of a return to domestic politics were obvious. “People must look into your eyes and see that you are a bloody streetfighter,” he remarked in 2013, as he presciently dismissed Ed Miliband’s electoral chances.

Schulz has disoriented the Christian Democrats, who failed to anticipate a centre-left renaissance. In a mark of how much he has unsettled them, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has denounced him as a Trump-like populist for his slogan “Make Europe great again”. Were Schulz to replace Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to be elected French president, the pair would unite in seeking to impose punitive Brexit terms on the UK.

For Germany’s Social Democrats, the fear is that Schulz’s surge has come too soon – voters could swing back to Merkel and the CDU before polling day. But after years as an emblem of centre-left malaise, the SPD has momentum. Schulz is determined to prove that there are second acts in political lives. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit