The Scarlett Pimpernel that is Social Care

They seek him here, they seek him there

Those Frenchies seek him everywhere

Is he in heaven or is he in hell?

That damned elusive Pimpernel

Famous words from Baroness Emmuska Orczy’s The Scarlett Pimpernel which described the heroic elusiveness of the main character as he managed rescue upon rescue of captured prisoners during the French Revolution.

Being elusive is the heart of the success of the Scarlet Pimpernel. It was a thought that came to mind this week as I reflected two weeks into the campaigning for the United Kingdom General Election about the prominence or maybe more accurately the absence of social care within the election. Now I fully recognise that social care is a devolved matter and that it’s delivery in the Scottish context is obviously the responsibility of the Scottish Government and concerns about it belong to debates amongst Scottish political parties. However, I think the nature of the fiscal relationship between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government is such that whatever is discussed and decided about social care in England does have an impact in Scotland not least of which is any increased financial priority and spend.

So, what has been happening south of the border and indeed across the United Kingdom with regards to social care? Well like the Scarlet Pimpernel I seek some knowledge here,  I seek some knowledge there but the damn elusive social care seems nowhere. Not a mention not a whisper.

Writing in the Independent a couple of days ago Kate McCann said that social care was the issue that Sunak and Starmer won’t touch with a barge pole. Of social care she wrote that it was:

“currently the biggest electoral elephant in the room. It’s no surprise that neither of the main parties wants to touch this policy with a barge pole, after Theresa May tried and found herself tied to the drag-anchor of the dementia tax in 2017 – leading to that now-famous “nothing has changed” moment.”

“Problems with the social care workforce have fed into questions about immigration policy. A lack of available care places in the community means hospitals end up caring for people who are medically fit but unable to leave, clogging up admissions at the other end.”

Yet no commitment from Labour’s Wes Streeting to either social care reform or on the Dilnot proposals. Even greater silence from Labour on the impact of immigration on social care workforce sustainability. Only the Lib Dems seem to be actually talking about social care.

As McCann rightly observes of the two main parties:

“Neither is likely to propose wholescale change of the kind for which experts in the sector are calling, demonstrating a lack of ambition from both Labour and the Tories on this issue. There are clear reasons for this – not least the costs – balanced against the state of the UK economy. But, as political reporters, it makes it even more important to cut through the sales pitches and ask the questions that get to the heart of the problem, otherwise we risk serving voters poorly.”

So what of Scotland – well echoing absent silence here too and missed opportunity.

Last Monday Alzheimer Scotland published a report of the Commission on the Future of Long Term Care in Scotland. Set up in 2022 and chaired by former first minister Henry McLeish, the commission brought together a wide range of voices, including health and social care experts and those with lived experience of dementia. I was pleased to serve on the group.

Over the piece we heard first hand of the challenges facing those living with dementia and the lack of provision to enable people to live independently for as long as possible as well as the critical issues of lack of investment which would enable greater diversity and choice in specialist residential provision.

The report makes 16 key recommendations designed to safeguard and redefine the future of long term care in Scotland.

These include calls for the Scottish Government to:

  • urgently work with health and social care partnerships to undertake a full strategic assessment of the provision of long term care facilities and resources in each area,
  • establish agreed levels of care home and alternative care model places that should be equally available across Scotland,
  • establish a citizens’ assembly to engage across society on the type of alternative approaches to care that people want to access to meet their long term care needs
  • and engage in open, honest discourse around the reality of the current cost of care.

In commenting on the report I said that:

“Long term care matters for all of us. The way in which residential and nursing care is delivered today will inevitably change over the years. This report makes clear that people want to have a wider selection of choice about the care they may need and that they want more voice and control.

The Scottish Government urgently needs to prioritise social care and has to create an environment where external investment is able to support providers to innovate and develop new models of care and support.

In addition, the time has long passed for the inequity of people living with dementia having to pay for support and care which are essentially healthcare needs. There is so much that needs to change and no shortage of people wanting to support that change. The ball is well and truly in the hands of Ministers.”

So it’s an election – social care is devolved – will our Scottish Government take up the challenge and introduce fairness into the way we support people living with dementia? Will we properly invest in long term care  and support? Will we pay for a sector fit for the future?

Or like Sunak and Starmer with heads in the sand – will both commitment to and real change for Scotland’s long term care sector be as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel?

Donald Macaskill

Photo by MontyLov on Unsplash