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.

Photo: Getty
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What's happened to the German left?

For a fourth successive election, the left seems to be failing to challenge the status quo.

When Germany goes to the polls this weekend, Angela Merkel is expected to win a fourth term in office. Merkel has maintained her commanding lead in the polls on 37 per cent, while her closest competitor, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has been relegated to, at best, a possible coalition partner. 

The expectation that the status quo will continue has left commentators and politicians of all stripes asking: what has happened to the German left?

Lagging behind in the polls, with just 20 per cent of the country's voting intention, Martin Schulz’s SPD has slumped to its lowest level this year only days before the vote, according to the latest poll by Infratest dimap for ARD television.  

Even the prospect of a left-wing alternative to a Merkel-led coalition appears to have become unpalatable to the electorate. An alliance between the SPD, die Grünen (the Greens) and the socialist party die Linke (the Left) would not reach the threshold needed to form a government.

One explanation for the German left's lack of impact is the success Merkel has had in stifling her opposition by moving closer to the centre ground. Over the last four years, she has ruled a grand coalition known as GroKo (Große Koalition) with the centre-left SPD, leaving many of its voters believing their party was no longer any different to the chancellor's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Rolf Henning, 34, has been a member of the SPD since 2004. Campaigning in Pankow, a diverse area of eastern Berlin which has traditionally voted on the left, he told the New Statesman that although the coalition had enabled the SPD to push its social agenda, the party did not receive any credit for it.  

“It is now hard to motivate people to vote for the SPD because people think it will not make any difference. If we were to enter a coalition again with Merkel and the CDU then our support base will drain even further,” he said.  

Another grand coalition between the CDU and the SPD is very much on the cards, as Merkel is unlikely to win an outright majority. But while the arrangement has seemingly worked out well for the chancellor, its benefits for the SPD seem rather less certain.

“The political strength of the left is an illusion," says Gero Neugebauer, a political analyst and a former senior researcher at the Freie Universität Berlin, "The SPD did a good job in the coalition to push issues of social policy and family policies, but Ms Merkel took the credit for a lot of it. People saw the car and the chauffer rather than paying attention to the engine."

In 2015, under pressure from the SPD, the Merkel administration introduced a minimum wage in Germany, a benchmark for many in the party which yet did little to gloss over the SPD’s image. On the contrary, Merkel’s election campaign sought to win over disillusioned SPD voters.

According to Neugebauer, the left-wing parties have failed to work together to form a real alternative coalition to the Merkel administration. He warns that Germany’s left-wing camp has become “an illusion” with “virtual power”.

For a short-lived moment the election of Martin Schulz, the former president of the EU Parliament, to head the SPD, brought hope to the idea of a left-wing coalition. 

Stefan Liebich, a member of parliament for die Linke representing the Pankow district, says the SPD initially rose in the polls because people thought there could be an alternative coalition to Merkel. "But then the SPD made a lot of mistakes and they were wrongly told they would lose support if they worked with us," he adds.

"Now nobody believes a left-wing coalition could ever happen because the SPD is so low in the polls.” 

Before Schulz took over the SPD, few believed that after four years in the coalition government the party had a good chance in the upcoming election. “But Schulz arrived and said ‘I will be chancellor’ and it was like a phoenix rising from the ashes,” says Neugebauer.

Schulz revived the social-democratic tradition and spoke about social justice, but the delay of his election programme left many wondering whether he would be able to walk the walk – and his popularity started to fall.

“Compared to Merkel, he became less credible and less trustworthy,” says Neugebauer.  

The SPD are, of course, not the only left-wing party running. Back in Pankow, Caroline, a lawyer and a long-time SPD voter said she was considering voting for the more left-wing die Linke because she did not want to give her ballot to Schulz.

“There is something about him, he is not straightforward and he is too much like the CDU," she continues. "As the head of the EU Parliament, Schulz was good but I don’t think he has what it takes to tackle issues in Germany."

For Ulrike Queissner, also a Pankow resident, the SPD’s lurch to the centre convinced her to vote for die Linke: “The SPD has become mainstream and part of the establishment. It has become too close to the CDU and has no strong position anymore.”

Stable at about 8 per cent in the polls, die Linke is still trailing the extreme-right Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD), which is anticipated to win between 8 and 11 per cent of votes. This means it would enter the German parliament, the Bundestag, for the first time, becoming its third biggest party.

At the core of die Linke’s manifesto is the redistribution of wealth, a peaceful foreign policy and measures to stamp out the remaining social rift between east and west Germany.  

The party strives to challenge Merkel’s feel-good slogans by putting the spotlight on the discrepancies between rich and poor, and east and west.

 “When we look around to Portugal, Spain, Italy, and maybe even to the UK, we seem happy," says Liebich. "We don’t have an exit [from the EU] debate or a high unemployment rate. And yet, there is a part of Germany that sees that things are not going so well."

And for some of die Linke’s eastern electorate, immigration is at the top of the list of grievances, putting pressure on a party which has always defended an open door-policy – something Liebich acknowledges.

“In Berlin a majority of voters say they are open to people who need help, but in the eastern states, where we have a high unemployment rate and a lot of people who are not used to living with people of other cultures, there is a lot of anger."

That will add to concerns that large numbers of silent AfD supporters could create a surprise in the traditionally left-wing area of east Germany, where the far-right party is capitalising on the anti-immigration sentiment. The left seems to be squeezed between Merkel’s move to the centre ground and the AfD’s growing populist threat.

For Neugebauer the prospect of AfD members in parliament should force left-wing parties to sharpen their political lines, and form a consensus bloc against the rising extreme-right. The silver lining lies in the hope that all three left-wing parties – die Linke, die Grünen and die SPD – find themselves together in the opposition.

“Then, there would be an opportunity to start a conversation about what the parties have in common and start working together," he says. "It would be a chance for the German left to find itself again and create a vision for co-operation.” 

And yet, commentators still anticipate that at least some part of the left will end up working with Merkel, either through a grand coalition with the SPD or a three-way “Jamaica coalition”, with the pro-business FDP and the Greens. For the German left the time for cooperation, and a shot at taking charge of Germany's future, may still be some years away.