It is clear that the ‘care crunch’ – the crisis of inadequate and costly provision in childcare and adult social care – ought to be the focus of radical and bold thinking for progressive politics. The aim must be to revitalise the welfare state in Beveridge’s vision ‘from cradle to grave’. Labour must show it is capable of taking long-term decisions and governing in the national interest. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is ideologically divided and unable to face up to tough choices particularly on long-term care for the elderly and support for children and families. Since 2010, the government has sought to address the deficit by ‘salami-slicing’ public expenditure rather than developing a coherent view of the state’s role and the services that ought to be provided within the public realm.
Labour must seek to fashion a coherent role for the state, providing care services in partnership with markets, communities and families. Achieving a fairer, more equal society entails the diffusion and dispersal of power, giving families greater choice and control over their lives. The ‘twin crises’ of care, childcare and social care, both concern core issues of living standards, employment opportunity, quality of family life, and ladders of social mobility that will remain a key battleground in British politics for years to come.
There are real choices to be made; but despite the tough fiscal climate, there is no reason why a future Labour government should not commit to a radical extension of the welfare state, underpinned by a universal, ‘Nordic-style’ system of child and adult social care. Universal childcare and comprehensive adult social care are both a sound economic policy, increasing employment rates and boosting family incomes, and a sound social policy, tackling inequality, widening social mobility, and improving outcomes for children.
The funding of long-term care for the elderly is an unavoidable issue for the next Labour government. Incremental change will not give the country the comprehensive system of social care it needs. Instead, bold reforms are required, matched by clear decisions on funding. There is certainly a credible ‘something-for-something’ approach, in which wealthy pensioners from the ‘baby-boomer’ generation forgo benefits today in order to create a sustainable social care system for the future. At the same time, unlocking unused housing equity has real advantages, while benefit savings from those on higher incomes might be needed to fund a universal childcare system. Labour has taken a brave decision to build agreement on Dilnot, since long-term consensus will be needed to achieve lasting change.
Even in an era of greatly constrained resources, the party can still aspire to be a radical, reforming government if it has the courage to face up to tough decisions and hard choices. Indeed, tackling Britain’s ‘care crises’ should be central to Labour’s appeal at the next election. They ought to be key strategic ambitions for the next Labour government.
Patrick Diamond is senior research fellow at Policy Network. His Purple Paper, Tackling Britain’s ‘care crunch’, can be downloaded here
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