It is rare indeed for me to welcome and applaud a contribution from a Tory peer to the debate around health and social care provision across the UK.
But in these unprecedented times even those normally ideologically opposed to state provision of essential services appear willing to accept the moral principle and economic imperative of a nationalised care service integrated within our National Health Service, instead of the ragged, inadequate and botched private sector provision which fails our elderly citizens every day. Writing in today’s Guardian newspaper Tory appointed Lord Ros Altmann admits care homes being “nationalised” could be the answer to the serious and increasing problems within the neglected sector. Why is the Labour party frontbench not enthusiastically running with this demand?
In February I presented the case for elderly and social care to be re-nationalised. It is an ideological imperative to me that caring for those citizens who gave so much to build up our society is the responsibility of the state not some fly by night off-shore cowboy outfit more interested in a quick buck than quality care for senior citizens.
Thatcher Privatisation Tsunami Started Elderly Care Sell-Off
Since the 1980’s when social care provision was de-coupled from NHS responsibility by a Thatcher government intent on privatisation of public services the sector has been progressively stripped of attention to care provision and replaced with the profit motive. Homes initially passed to local authorities have been syphoned off as council budgets were squeezed to pay for millionaire tax cuts and corporation tax reductions by various central governments of both Labour and Tory complexion.
The elderly care home sector boasts some fine charitable and non-profit making providers but they are the stark exceptions to the rule of private equity owners and profit obsessed companies who have polluted the sector with poverty pay, pathetic training and zero hours contracts designed to push up profits at the expense of quality care. No wonder Age UK finds over 1.5 million elderly citizens, one in seven, are left without the care they so desperately need.
Many of the providers in the sector are not just shoddy employers they also arrange their financial affairs to avoid paying taxes on their profits and fees to local councils. A recent detailed analysis found 18 of the 26 biggest providers use company structuring chicanery to deprive the public purse of up to £1.5 billion a year in tax and fee revenues.
NHS Reached 72 Yesterday but Will it Last Another 72 Years?
The NHS reached its 72nd birthday yesterday and many admire and respect its on-going contribution to public health. The Covid19 challenges were dealt with by a dedicated but underfunded institution that employs some of the most talented, dedicated and caring human beings on the planet but its creation was vehemently opposed by many of the Tory ideologues who now sit in government. Boris Johnson regularly claims the mantle of Churchill in a vainglorious attempt to reach the status of a successful war leader but we should never forget Churchill and his Tory chums did all they could to prevent the NHS from ever being created including voting against it 21 times before the act was passed, including both the 2nd and 3rd reading.
The NHS has reached 72 years of age despite Tories like Churchill and Johnson, not because of them. When Thatcher was elected in 1979, she ushered in a whole new value system which preached the ‘creed of greed’ above all else. Her ‘no such thing as society’ sermon set the tone for massive privatisations and reductions in welfare provision, health care and trade union rights. The get rich quick, ‘me myself I’, generation that Thatcherism spawned saddled us with many of the cold and callous views which permeate the Tory party and wider society today. The removal of elderly care provision from NHS responsibility was the first step in privatising the sector and it is an eternal mark of shame that successive Labour governments from 1997 to 2010 did nothing to stop that or reverse the process.
If the NHS is to survive another 72 years it will require a herculean effort by ordinary folk to resist further blue Tory plans to break up the most profitable parts and sell them to their crony friends like Richard Branson and co. With the British Establishment friendly Sir Keir Starmer now in charge of the Labour party it will thoroughly deserve its red Tory tag once again and cannot be trusted to defend the most precious achievement of the 1945 Labour government.
Labour Must Pick Up and Run With Elderly Care Renationalisation Demand
The fact I am referring to an opinion piece from a Tory peer in support of re-nationalising the elderly care home sector and not an article, statement or speech from Starmer or one of his carefully chosen cabinet members speaks volumes about Labour politics and priorities today.
Applauding the NHS without securing cast iron funding guarantees on its 72nd birthday and supporting government measures to ease the Covid19 lockdown is not proper opposition. The provision of quality elderly care for millions of senior citizens demands the whole sector is removed from money grabbing private providers on a strict means tested compensation basis. Only legitimate proven losses should be reimbursed.
The fact so many Covid19 deaths have occurred within the private elderly care sector, one in twenty of the forty thousand plus total, has exposed the insufficiency of current care provision and the urgency of the crisis confronting it. Care homes are where elderly citizens should go to receive quality care, compassion, and attention, not to die prematurely.
The whole elderly care home sector must be returned to the public sector through a Social Care Service working cooperatively and in a joined-up fashion with the public NHS. A Quality Care Assurance must be introduced alongside minimum employment guarantees which ensure proper living wages, relevant training, job security and motivation and trade union representation for all health and social care staff. The days of poverty pay and contracting out of essential services to avoid paying living wages should be banished from the NHS. If Tory appointed peers can support renationalisation of elderly care, surely Labour in opposition must pick up the cause and pursue it with vigour.