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.

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Marine Le Pen’s new disguise: a bid to rebrand her far-right party as the “National Rally”

Le Pen hopes to present her renamed party as the working-class alternative to Macron’s bourgeois elitism.

Marine Le Pen had just declared: “When foreigners are in France, they must respect the law and the people” when chants of “On est chez nous!” (“We are at home!”) broke out in the audience. French flags were waved in the air.

On 11 March, Le Pen, 49, was re-elected leader of her far-right party, Front National (FN), and announced it was to be renamed Rassemblement National (“National Rally”). “It must be a rallying cry, a call for those who have France and the French at their heart to join us,” she declared at the party’s conference in Lille, northern France.

It’s a pivotal moment for the party her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founded in 1972 and led until 2011. After going from a “jackass” far-right outfit known for its xenophobia, to the nationalist, anti-immigration party defeated in the final round of the 2017 French presidential election by the liberal candidate Emmanuel Macron, its goal is now to move “from opposition and into government”, Le Pen said.

For the FN leader, this is also a decisive moment. Le Pen’s credibility was damaged by her weak performance in the run-off debate and polls show her campaign eroded the political gains made during the party’s decade-long “de-demonisation”. “Her image is clearly tarnished,” Valérie Igounet, an expert on the French far right, told me. “But she is still supported by the party.” The FN claims its membership is around 80,000; Igounet says it is likely to have fallen to 50,000.

The proposed name will be put to a membership vote – as Le Pen’s re-election was, though she was the only candidate – but the move has already prompted concern.

Asked if they were happy with the rebrand, only 52 per cent of FN members answered yes. “It is a name that has negative connotations in French history,” Igounet said. Rassemblement National was a collaborationist party in the 1940s. It was also used in 1965 by defeated far-right presidential candidate Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour, whose campaign was run by Jean-Marie Le Pen. “For a party that wants to free itself from Le Pen’s father, it’s a surprising choice,” Igounet said. Another political organisation, Rassemblement pour la France, claims the FN has no right to the name.

Not all of the FN’s fundamentals have been abandoned. The logo, a red, white and blue flame inspired by an Italian neo-fascist party, remains. Membership surveys show 98 per cent still approve of the anti-immigration rhetoric, Igounet said.

Le Pen hopes the rebrand will enable new political alliances. Thierry Mariani, a former minister under Nicolas Sarkozy and member of the right-wing Républicains, has called for an alliance with the FN (which, he said, “has evolved”). But the Républicains’ leader, Laurent Wauquiez, is firmly opposed: “As long as I am leader, there will be no alliance with the FN,” he vowed. “The FN want to make alliances, but they have nowhere to go,” said Antoine de Cabanes, a researcher on the far right for the think tank Transform! Europe.

Can Le Pen’s party really be “de-demonised”? The former Donald Trump aide Steve Bannon, who is currently touring Europe, was invited to speak at the Lille conference. “Let them call you racists, let them call you xenophobes, let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honour,” he told activists, to rapturous applause.

Bannon has also praised Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, Marine’s more conservative 28-year-old niece, as the party’s “rising star”. The younger Le Pen is on a “break” from French politics but addressed the US Republicans in Washington in February, where she declared her ambition to “make France great again”. Marion is tipped as a possible future leader. “She has the right name,” noted De Cabanes.

Marine Le Pen insisted she didn’t want to “make an ally” of Bannon, but rather to “listen to someone who defied expectation to win against all odds”. Yet even her father, a Holocaust denier whose politics are closer to Bannon’s than his daughter’s, described the choice of speaker as “not exactly de-demonising the party”.

It was not an isolated incident. On 10 March, Davy Rodríguez, a parliamentary assistant to Le Pen, was forced to resign after he was filmed using a racial slur in Lille.

The FN defended Bannon’s invitation on the grounds that “he embodies the rejection of the establishment, of the European Union and the system of politics and the media”. Le Pen called President Macron’s politics a “great downgrading of the middle and working class” and declared her party “the defender of the workers, the employees, the sorrowful farmers”.

The road to the 2022 presidential contest includes four elections – municipal, departmental, regional and European –  in which Le Pen hopes to present her renamed party as the working-class alternative to Macron’s bourgeois elitism. But in Lille, activists cheered wildly not when Le Pen spoke about the road ahead, but when she declared: “Legal and illegal immigration are not bearable any more!” Plus ça change… 

Pauline Bock writes about France, the Macron presidency, Brexit and EU citizens in the UK. She also happens to be French.

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Putin’s spy game