Labour must seize the initiative on social care

By Letters
Nurse pushing patient in wheelchair.
‘Privatising and cost cutting have resulted in hedge fund values and a disastrous shortfall in staffing.’ Photograph: Alamy

Your editorial concerning Boris Johnson’s announcement on health and social care funding (7 September) rightly draws attention to the detrimental effects of the organisational split between two branches of the same tree. The ludicrous situation of having free care on one side and charges on the other is made even more laughable when no one is able to establish the division between the two with any certainty.

Pre-Tony Blair, the Labour party was seriously looking at the idea of a formal merger between the NHS and social care, and the principle has been endorsed by the Commons’ health committee on a number of occasions. The extension of universal taxpayer-funded provision to enable free social care hasn’t just been a problem for the Conservatives, but also for New Labour. However, alongside a gradual return of social care to the public sector, it is the only way to effectively address what Johnson terms the “crisis” in the sector, and your editorial correctly points out how this could be funded.

The government proposes to throw additional resources at a failing system it is doing absolutely nothing to reform. Not only has it put the cart before the horse, the horse hasn’t even turned up.
David Hinchliffe
Former Labour MP for Wakefield and past chair of health committee

• Boris Johnson’s foray into the social care quagmire (Boris Johnson stakes reputation on £12bn fix for health and social care, 7 September) is surely an opportunity for Keir Starmer and the Labour party to enunciate both broad, progressive principles and some of the specifics proposed in Andy Burnham’s 2010 white paper.

Rather than score points about breaking election promises regarding taxation, Labour should welcome and reinforce the message that a national care service will cost money. The only question is how this is to be raised as equitably and progressively as possible. Andy Burnham’s proposal to impose a 10% estate levy was panned as a “death tax” at the time, but would surely fare better amid the current furore about unpalatable alternatives that set young against old and north against south, etc.

Having seized the initiative, it should then be possible to hammer a few home truths that would enjoy broad consensus. For example, the Thatcher experiment has run its course and the consequent diminution of local democracy has created anomalies between real care costs and savagely reduced local authority budgets, which the government’s proposals will not resolve. Privatising and cost cutting have resulted in hedge fund values and a disastrous shortfall in staffing. The time has come to declare the experiment a failure and consign it to history.

The appeal of back to the future has been demonstrated all too starkly over recent years. Who’s to say that Labour couldn’t turn it to its progressive advantage in this most sensitive of contexts?
Pam Clarke
Horsham, West Sussex

• Frances Ryan (Boris Johnson has created a ‘social care plan’ without any plan for social care, 7 September) is correct in saying that social care needs to be transformed, that radical thinking is needed, and that its provision needs to be more like that of healthcare as provided by the NHS. So when is the Labour party, the architect of the NHS, going to take this on? When is it going to make clear that the Tories’ self-description as a low-tax party actually means that it is a high-greed party, that tax is what pays for decent levels of public provision, and that the countries in Europe that have the best quality of life are those whose governments take more tax and use it to help everyone, especially those in greatest need?
Roger Fisken
Reading, Berkshire

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