The economic climate may well be making a lot of people suffer but its effect may be far-reaching in terms of how care is structured and administered over the next few years.
Would anyone involved in social care – service user or practitioner – trust the Conservatives? David Cameron was getting all sentimental last week in using a very non-Tory approach to issues like poverty and education. Ahead in the polls, Cameron was making sure wavering voters would not get the wrong idea about the Tories; that they really will make sure those who need help will get it. The speech even had the Guardian stating that traditional left-leaning voters may have been nodding in agreement in parts.
For me, the issue is not a philosophical one; after all, who would ever have believed that a Labour government could allow the gap between rich and poor to be so marked? Or that witless bankers (no, that’s not a spoonerism) would be ‘excused’ for their ineptitude?
And herein lies the problem; it’s not about a difference in philosophy between Labour and the Tories, rather a difference in ability to effectively manage complex government. And here both the main parties are not exactly blessed with talent in the crucial area of social care. Both parties know they cannot alienate voters in key marginals and have to make the right noises about care. And in the current economic climate that means more effective management within tighter budgets.
So for starters, might it not be an idea for local authorities to be looking at whether they are really getting value for money in the following areas before the new administration (of whatever colour) does it for them:
Out-of-borough adult residential placements
Block contracts with Community Care suppliers
Advertising and marketing of services and jobs.
If I was a betting man, I think we could find considerable savings in these areas alone.
It’s the little things which put the bigger things into perspective. Last week two minor events in my life brought home how precious and precarious life can be; and how luck and fate plays a part. First to a hospital in north London to visit a friend from the chess team I play for who was admitted the previous weekend with a serious complaint and who was, and is, very poorly. Seeing a guy who two weeks before was playing alongside me in the National Chess League now barely able to walk to the lavatory was a real shock. The daily grind of work, making ends meet and hoping there is enough left at the end of the month for the odd visit to a restaurant suddenly becomes meaningless when you see a person you know well suffering like this.
Then the next evening to interview a potential model for Care images (actually her mother) as the model is a five-year-old disabled girl. They live in a council tower block on one of the higher floors and as I waited for the lift to come down I thought to myself; ‘what would happen in the event of a fire?’ The answer, chillingly, stared at me from the TV screens on Friday as news of the tower-block tragedy in Camberwell came through.
We are caught up in the minutiae of our lives, especially the economic climate. As long as everything is OK for me, then why should I worry about anyone else? This is a philosophy which brought great success to one Margaret Thatcher and is one that has permeated all aspects of our society. Maybe we need to take a step back, draw breath and take stock of what kind of country we have become. One minute, two happy families were busy with the minutiae of their lives in a tower block, two hours later they were trapped, unable to escape the flames. I may well be all right Jack, but what about those people who are not?
I like to listen to late-night phone-ins to help me get to sleep; but one recently on BBC Radio 5Live certainly kept me awake.
To mark National Carers Week listeners were invited to ring in with their stories and as the evening unfolded, so a pattern emerged of people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicity basically saving the government millions by caring for relatives and friends and not being paid for the service. Radio is excellent for graphic imagery; we were asked to picture a businessman moving from the boardroom to his mother’s bathroom and talking of losing the plot when she wet the floor of the kitchen.
I have been around care a long time but only from the point of view of a paid carer; either as a residential social worker or social worker/commissioning manager. More latterly, since changing careers and working with helping care organisations with publicity and marketing, I have come to realise that this army of unpaid social workers is fighting an unjust war. Stephen Nolan’s programme highlighted the flaws in a system that allows teenagers to spend leisure (and sometimes school) time looking after a disabled relative instead of enjoying a youth they will look back on as empty.
And as the programme presented Stephen Nolan pointed out, he has run this story on a number of occasions and nothing much seems to have changed, other than potential tax breaks for adult carers. Carers organisations are doing fantastic work helping carers with respite breaks and support but it does seem absurd that a country as rich as the UK has to rely on what is little more than child labour to care for its disabled and elderly population. But then I read today that the chief exec of British Airways is asking staff to follow his lead and work for a few weeks gratis to help the company out of its financial difficulties. That’s really nice of him to give up £61,000 (one month of his annual salary). Presumably, if one of his relatives was in the unfortunate position of not being able to control their bowels he would still be able to pay for luxury care, despite his noble gesture of giving up a month’s salary.