In a matter of days, Britain’s social care crisis became the Tories’ election crisis. As Theresa May took the fall out of a U-turn on the “dementia tax” – a term adopted with such ease, and so widely, it gives a hint at the failures of the policy – Tory HQ was left clutching at straws. As well as buying Google ad space to “correct” voters searching for “dementia tax”, May has adopted two equally desperate strategies: insisting that “nothing has changed” since the manifesto (as if it hadn’t been published for all to see), and declaring that to suggest otherwise is simply Jeremy Corbyn making “fake claims”.
It’s a particularly brazen stance, considering the Conservatives are currently using their social media feeds and press statements to issue what appear to be a series of entirely fabricated statements about their opponents. Such things aren’t simply a sign of desperation but an insight into the sort of party it is. Theresa May has made it clear that when a policy begins to unravel she’s willing to use outright deceit in an attempt to escape it.
The country is about to face a “staggering increase” in the cost of social care. Research published this week shows that within the next eight years there will be 2.8 million people over the age of 65 needing nursing and social care – that’s an increase of 25%. With no credible response, Theresa May’s team is lurching between silence and frantic underhand tactics. Yet what’s really damning is that as the “dementia tax” U-turn gets the focus, more black holes lurking in the Conservatives’ social care policy are going under the radar.
Take the unpaid leave plan. Before the dementia tax captured the headlines, May proudly announced that if she were re-elected, employees would be given the right to take a year off work to care for elderly relatives.
Family carers have been the invisible backbone of social care for years, but to enshrine this policy in a manifesto marks a disturbing shift. The Conservatives don’t intend to relieve the pressure on carers but use unpaid labour as a long-term solution to “plug the gap” in gutted state funding.
If unpaid work isn’t enough, the dementia tax could then leave carers suddenly homeless when the person they are caring for dies. One woman, a carer for her elderly mother, broke down on the radio this week. She was describing how the policy appears to mean that – because she’s living in the family home to care for her mum – when her mum dies, their house will be sold off to pay the state back for her care, leaving her with nowhere to live.
It’s unclear whether a similar fate to that of carers who live with older relatives awaits disabled people who – largely due to a lack of accessible homes and adequate social care packages – live with their parents into later life. When their parents die, will the disabled child lose their home as well?
That this hasn’t even been mentioned by the Conservatives is hardly a surprise. While the dementia tax is criticised for failing to address the needs of older people, there is no plan at all for working-age disabled people who rely on social care.
As one reader with a chronic pain condition asked me this week: “Will the new social care policy apply to disabled people too? The media’s not talking about disabled folk.” I’ve written before about the way the social care debate shuts out disabled people but we’ve now reached a point where major policy that completely ignores us is being announced.
spoke at a social care event in Manchester last week, and heard from disabled people and their families terrified of the future: a parent of a young adult son with learning disabilities frantic he’d end up being “warehoused” in unsafe institutional care; a twentysomething wheelchair user trying to plan her life but being discouraged from getting a job because of the impact on her social care package (she told me she was “lucky” because, unlike many of her disabled friends, she at least had some care hours).
There are a million disabled people now without the social care they need, and 6.5 million of us caring for elderly or disabled relatives. Theresa May has made it clear: she is more concerned with hanging on to her position as prime minister than offering the help that’s desperately needed. Come next month, voters must not forget it.