from managing her mother’s severe dementia. Tearfully, she told us she was losing a lifeline. Then there was 37-year-old martine, who was in constant pain from juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Her husband, David, was caring for her 24 hours a day while looking after their three-year-old triplets and trying to work. There was no question they needed help, but the council support never seemed enough, even though David was quietly, uncomplainingly crumbling under the strain. Thirdly, there was Rita, 77, living with Parkinson’s and dementia. She had recently moved into a nursing home and was caught in confusing discussions over who should fund her care – the nHS, the council or her. She was adamant she didn’t want to sell the family home to pay for her care. It was a council house she and her husband worked hard to buy. Rita, martine and Barbara had families nearby to fight for them, but 84-year- old Pat was on her own. Increasingly isolated, lonely and unsteady on her feet, without regular help she was likely to end up in hospital in a crisis. It was an insight into an overstretched, underfunded and baffling system held together by many people doing their best in increasingly difficult circumstances – that included social workers and council officers trying to make budgets stretch as far as possible. Care companies providing support either in residential homes or in people’s own homes warned that local authority fees weren’t covering the real costs, so people funding themselves were often paying more to prop up the system. One frustrated care company boss told us, “Ultimately, this is a society problem; everyone in the country has to decide what they want out of their social care system, and once they have decided what it is then you’ve got to pay for it. And if you don’t want to pay
In July, the House of lords called for the roll- out of free personal care, a policy which is already in action in Scotland
for it then, excuse my French, you’ve just got to lump it, haven’t you?” last July, the lords economic affairs committee described the current situation as a national scandal. It also took the bold step of recommending that free personal care should be introduced, providing everyone with a base-line of support. Twenty years ago, the idea was rejected in England as being too expensive, but the system was introduced in Scotland. It is said one benefit is that early help for people reduces pressures on the nHS. In the past, proposals for reform have become political footballs or been dubbed too costly by the Treasury, so it’s particularly striking that this was a cross-party committee, which included former Tory and labour chancellors. On winning the election in December, Boris Johnson reiterated his pledge to reform the care system and promised cross-party talks within his government’s first 100 days. The sceptics will point to the more than 1,000 days that have passed since the last Conservative government promised to publish a green paper on care reform, and mr Johnson’s clear plan has yet to emerge. But with such a large majority, this government could make important and lasting change – a true legacy for future generations. The many families who need help now are already watching and waiting.