Thursday, 19 July 2012

The White Paper on Social Care: we mustn’t let it turn into a missed opportunity


Recently I wrote about John Burns, whose battle to secure continuing healthcare in his own home gave me cause for considerable concern. For those who may not have seen my previous piece, Mr Burns suffered a tragic water sports accident which left him paralysed and without sensation from the neck down. But at the very time when he most needed the support and infrastructure of family life, he was forced, through lack of any alternative, to live in institutional care. Understandably, Mr Burns regarded this as akin to prison. He missed anniversary celebrations and seeing his sons grow up, and all the up and downs that make a family so special.

I was fortunate to hear Mr Burns speak at the AGM of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Spinal Cord Injury, held at Portcullis House. He brought his audience to the brink of tears as he so spoke so courageously. I left feeling profoundly moved, and determined to try to raise the profile of people in Mr Burns’ position.

With this in mind I applaud the publication of a white paper on the future of social care, published last week along with a draft social care Bill. As a press release from the Law Society has it, this amounts to “a rare opportunity to unify and modernise existing legislation which must not be wasted.” Law Society President Lucy Scott-Moncrieff  states: “Simplifying and unifying a mass of existing statute is an arduous and complex exercise.  The aim must be to improve the experience of those requiring care.”

The publication of the white paper comes against a backdrop of reduced spending on social care, a society whose citizens are living longer and a need for clarity on how the system will be funded in future. But does it do enough to help seriously injured people?

I will be taking a look at both the white paper and the draft Bill in detail to find out, but one thing strikes me as dubious at the outset. It is envisaged that elderly people in need of care will be able to take out loans on the value of their homes, repayment of which will be deferred until their death. Therefore people will not be forced to sell their homes to obtain care, but is it right that the family inheritance is potentially eradicated in this fashion?

I don’t think it is. I believe that as a society we are guilty of failing to respect those in need of care properly, whether they are the elderly or those unfortunate enough to suffer a serious and debilitating injury. At present, costs are pushed back and forth between local authorities and the NHS – a problem the white paper seeks to deal with by proposing greater integration – but as a starting point surely we should be accepting that society has a duty to meet the costs of care? After all, those who need care have paid their taxes and, in all but a tiny minority of cases, they have contributed to the wellbeing of their communities and the economy of the nation. Why does government, past and present, assume the default position that it is the individual’s responsibility to pay for care?

I will return to this topic in the future but, for now, I am not convinced that those suffering catestrophic injury  would be impressed or relieved by the content of this white paper.  Let’s make sure it doesn’t end up being a missed opportunity.