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.

Hamzah al Zobi
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Meet the Syrians using education to escape the refugee camps

On the bus to university with Syrian refugees in Jordan. 

The bus to Zarqa University leaves Jordan’s largest refugee camp at 7am sharp. The journey is one of the day’s highlights for the Syrian students who ride this route - a chance to plan weekend get-togethers, bemoan heavy course loads and even enjoy the occasional school-bus style sing-along. It’s also their daily ticket out of Za’atari camp and a means of escaping the dreary realities of refugee life.

“We are the lucky ones. Most had to give up their dreams of higher education” says 19-year-old Reema Nasser Al Hamad, whose family fled to Jordan five years ago when bombs destroyed her home in Dara’a, Syria. She shudders to think of the alternatives: aimless days spent sitting in a crowded caravan, or early marriage. “After the war, students in Syria lost their cities, their opportunities and their futures, so many of the girls just married when they got here. There’s a huge difference between the lives of those who study and those who don’t.”

Despite missing two years of school, Reema (pictured below) was able to pass her exams before securing a Saudi-funded scholarship to study Pharmacy at Zaraq’ University. “In Syria, I’d planned to do medicine and be a doctor because I always had high grades. There are fewer choices for us here but I’m happy to be studying at all,” she says. Hamza al Zobi, who’s studying Pharmacy on an the EU-funded EDU-Syria programnme, says young Syrians are hungry to learn. “We all have friends and relatives who didn’t get this chance and we feel so upset for them. If they’re not well educated, how can they go back and do the right thing for our country?”

More than a quarter of 18-24 year olds in Syria were enrolled in higher education when the war broke out. “Based on data provided by UNHCR we assess that around 20,000 young Syrians in Jordan would qualify for vocational education and higher education,” says Job Arts, Programme Manager Education and Youth, EU Delegation to Jordan, which is supporting some 1800 Syrians and disadvantaged Jordanians on degree courses in Jordan.

“While the number of places for Syrian students to pursue their education has increased dramatically over the past few years, there are still many more interested students than spaces available for study,” says Sarah Dryden-Peterson, non-resident Fellow at the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution. “Without these possibilities, young Syrians will lose the kind of hope that is essential to productive futures.”

According to the Jordan Response Platform for the Syria Crisis, 1,250 Syrian youth were in higher education in Jordan in 2016. Building on commitments made by the international community at the London Conference on Syria last year, the Jordanian government hopes to secure funding to increase access to tertiary education and vocational training at the upcoming conference in Brussels this April.

“Jordan views higher education from a strategic point of view, specifically in terms of providing the Syrian youth with the education, skill and knowledge that will allow the opportunity to be part of rebuilding their country once the current situation comes to an end,” says Feda Gharaibeh, Director, Humanitarian Relief Coordination Unit at the Jordanian Ministry of Planning & International Cooperation.

Reema plans to return to Syria when the war is over. “After graduation a lot of students want to go to Europe. That would be fine for me too if it’s just to do a masters or doctorate, but then I want to go back to Syria and use what I’ve learnt to help my people.” Now four semesters into her course, she is making good progress but says adapting to the Jordanian education system was a challenge. “It’s really difficult for us. Classes are taught in English and the teaching style is different. They also have a lot more exams here.”

Only the brightest stand a chance of securing a scholarship but many young Syrians have seen their grades plummet after missing years of schooling. For, some, it’s too late to catch up. Accountancy student Ibrahim Mohammed, 23, came to Jordan in 2013 with his younger brother Khalil, now 19, who works in a print shop. “He stopped studying when he was 14. He didn’t even have a chance to get his high school certificate,” says Ibrahim.

Attempts to bridge the gap through open and distance learning programmes aren’t always effective. “It’s not a tool that is frequently used in the education environment in the Middle East,” explains Arts. Refugee students' access to electricity, internet connections, computers and space to study can be in short supply. Moreover, many students seek the escapism that a university education offers. “In our dialogue with parents and students, we often hear the phrase ‘being normal again’,” Arts adds.

Hamzah tries to help fellow students achieve this in his role as representative for the Syrian community at Zarqa University. He and Reema are part of a team that offers advice to new students and support for those from poorer families living in the camps. “There are 900 Syrian students here and each one has a different story of suffering,” says Hamzah, who organises group trips to restaurants and fairgrounds, helping to create a sense of regular student life. “It makes us forget what we are,” explains Reema.

During term time, she prefers to stay with her uncle in Mafraq, a city nearby. It’s hard to study in Za’atari. As soon as the power comes on at 5pm, her brothers switch on the TV, making it difficult to concentrate in the cramped caravan they share. There’s nowhere else to go; the camp is dangerous at night, particularly for young women. It’s even more crowded since the arrival of her baby sister. Reema remembers how her mother sobbed when she learned of the pregnancy, worried about bringing another child into the makeshift world of the camp.

But in five years a lot has changed. “In Syria, I had never left my village; now I feel there is another world to know,” says Reema. Like many Syrian students, she worries about life after university, particularly if they stay in Jordan where employment opportunities remain restricted for Syrian refugees. “It seems like work is forbidden to us Syrians and without a job we can’t take control of our lives. We’re studying hard but with no prospects,” says Hamzah. Few can see beyond graduation. “The future is opaque for us,” he adds, “We’re just living day by day.”

To date, the Jordanian government has issued some 39,000 works permits out of the 200,000 it pledged to make available for Syrians during the London Conference last February. However, with these opportunities built around low-income roles, primarily in the construction, agriculture, and textile manufacture sectors, the way for Syrian university graduates in Jordan still seems barred.

“Jordan is a small country with limited job opportunities,” says Ghaith Rababah Head of Projects & International Cooperation Unit (PICU) at the Ministry of Higher Education & Scientific Research. “Maybe the market will be better able to absorb educated Syrians at a later stage.”

In the meantime, higher education offers young Syrians a semblance of the security and stability their lives otherwise lack, Rababah continues. Given the opportunity to “use their talents for something good”, he adds, young people placed in difficult situations are less likely to fall prey to extremist ideologies and be “tricked into committing terrorist acts".