The agenda for Gordon Brown’s government is set. Many of the proposed bills have an element of a social conscience to them: the headlines picked up on his aims to build affordable housing through the Housing and Regeneration Bill, but there’s more.
Brown aims to provide a better framework for vulnerable and looked-after children through the Children in Care Bill and less poverty through the Child Maintenance Bill. Through the new Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, his aim is to reduce reoffending.
Protecting employees’ rights will be tackled by simplifying employment law. By encouraging the development of public transport through the Local Transport Bill his government may well be helping the most deprived. Looking to the future, the Pensions Bill help more people have security in retirement.
But Brown has shied away from committing his government to doing much about social care. The nearest that he got to it was – in the Health and Social Care Bill – the creation of Ofcare, the new regulatory body. No mention of the funding crisis in adult social care and withdrawal of services, no mention of the low wages and poor working conditions for many paid carers, no mention of the state of care homes – CSCI reports that a third of all of them are “barely adequate”, and hundreds are “poor”.
We need new ideas about how to help older people stay independent for longer, and how to care for them, more humanely than we do now, when they can no longer care for themselves. We need more than encouragement into employment for disabled people: we need to invest in them so that they can participate in and contribute towards their communities.
Apart from ideas, social care needs investment. But at a time when the government has promised to invest in the rail system, housing and the armed forces, where will the money come from?
Seemingly tacked on the end of all of the other reforms is the Unclaimed Assets Bill. This allows the banks to use the billions in unclaimed assets to “reinvest in society”.
Essentially, this is a chance to spend without increasing taxation. Why not invest in social care? With all of us concerned about the future for our older relatives, ourselves and our relatives with disabilities, wouldn’t this be a vote-winner – sorry – popular as well?
Simon Heng is disabled and involved in service user organisations
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