Social care should be seen as a “social and economic generator” and not a “burden” on tax-payers, according to a leading disabled academic.
Professor Peter Beresford said, in a public lecture at Brunel University this week, that the provision of social care showed that the old Poor Law was “alive and well in the 21st century”.
He said: “We cling to an NHS that is universal, free at the point of delivery and paid for out of general taxation.”
But for longer-term care needs, social care is means- and needs-tested.
He said: “It’s as if policymakers and politicians have been able to trade on our desire not to think about where our lives may be heading as we get older, acquire impairments, need support.”
Beresford, who chairs the national service-user network Shaping Our Lives and is professor of social policy at Brunel, spoke of a friend of his, Graham, who has been married to his wife Maureen for more than 50 years.
Graham is blind, while Maureen has Parkinson’s and dementia and was admitted to a care home in 2013.
Beresford said: “There isn’t an appropriate room for her to sit in and if she sits in a chair in her own room they have been told that a member of staff has to be there – and there is never one to spare.
“So in 2015 we can get a spaceship onto a rock in space, but we can’t provide the basics to ensure a basic quality of life for an older person, despite the commitment of staff and the fact that unlike many residents Maureen has family to visit and help out.”
The three main political parties continued to argue, he said, that making social care a universal service, free at the point of delivery, and funded by general taxation, was not affordable.
But Beresford questioned why paying for social care should be seen as a “negative” and not as an investment in a “productive and competitive nation”.
The disabled activist Gerry Zarb has pointed out that increasing disabled people’s participation in social and economic life would “reduce their reliance on and the associated costs of family carers, social security and segregated services”, and would “maximize their social and economic contribution”, said Beresford.
He said that analysis of adult social care in England in 2011-12 showed that its direct economic value was more than £20 billion, while it added a further £16 billion indirectly to the economy. It employed 1.5 million workers, and supported another million full-time-equivalent jobs.
He said that “reconceiving social care as an economic generator with a primary concern with people’s well-being” would create valued employment and careers, develop learning and skills to support the social care workforce, and encourage “research, development and innovation”.
He said: “Such a needs-based and person-centred approach would value us equally and be concerned with our well-being, whatever our role: worker, service-user or simply citizen.”