Elephants in a room: Adult social care during the Brexit years
Brexit as a political phenomenon has defined the last three years. Three years of negotiations, deadlines and extensions. Yet the cry from a large minority of the population, primarily those on the left and pro-remain, has been that such is the attention and focus paid to Brexit that other important political issues, primarily the seemingly permanent crises surrounding social care and services, have been woefully neglected.
Adult social care remains an extremely pressing issue in the UK, despite the very real lack of attention paid to it in headlines. In 2016 alone, 1.8 million new adults applied for some form of social care, whether that’s for help with a learning disability or old age infirmity. The vast majority of new applicants fell into the latter category, with ¾ of them being over 65 and, of those, a further ¾ requiring aid for physical disabilities. Within the remaining quarter of 18-64 year olds, learning disabilities dominate at 45%, yet are closely followed by physical disabilities at 30%. The challenge social care faces is Britain’s increasingly ageing population, as in a population with a disproportionate number of elderly people in need of care. With a surplus of physically infirm citizens in need of care, the state is forced to step in to help those with either no families or whose families cannot supply adequate care. As of 2017, therefore, just over 1% of Britain’s GDP was spent on ‘long-term care’ according to the Office for Budget Responsibility. Yet funding is still scarce across different parts of the country, and Age UK have estimated that 1.2 million older people simply are not getting the care they require for basic tasks.
What role has Brexit played in the delivery of social care? Critics of the government claim that with the immense pressure of negotiations and preparations for withdrawal, social care, amongst other things, has been neglected. The Labour Party in particular have continued to demand higher quality care in the face of seeming apathy from the Conservative government. Yet this criticism seems at best misleading and at worst disingenuous. To claim that Brexit has sidelined all profound social issues is to completely ignore the fight of the 2017 election.
Theresa May’s manifesto focused almost exclusively on social issues and care, with the bitter fight over the so-called ‘Dementia Tax’ being most present in mind. This was the plan for adult social care whereby the Councils would on paper pay for the care of more people who had assets valued less than £100,000, rather than £23,500. The caveat, however, is that all potential patients would have the value of their estates factored into the valuation of their assets, meaning far fewer people actually receiving state-sponsored care. The fight over this policy brought adult social care to the front pages and made it a national issue.
A cynic might see this claim of the sidelining of social care has been done by the Labour Party in particular in order to separate themselves from the chaos of Brexit and in fact distract from their own lack of a firm position. This is not to exonerate the Tories, who have provided a truly toxic policy that fails to aid more people. The underlying problem is that social care and Brexit are both fairly insoluble issues; the population will continue to age no matter how many carers we have, and the lack of a clear plan post-Brexit is inevitable with the relatively small amount of time allotted to the government to negotiate. One can hardly blame members of the government for attempting to tackle the time-constrained issue before the permanent one, yet the apathy shown towards those truly in need is deeply shocking. We can only hope that the government solves at least one of these profound political issues of our time and hopefully without ignoring entirely the other.
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