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Reforming social care: a top priority for Keir Starmer’s Labour government

Why social care reform should be at the top of Labour’s agenda

Reforming social care: a top priority for Keir Starmer’s Labour government

As Keir Starmer entered 10 Downing Street with a strong mandate from the British public , there is a resounding call for substantial reforms across various sectors. Among the most pressing is the urgent need to overhaul the social care system. This system, as it stands, is broken and unjust, particularly towards disabled people and their carers. Starmer and his Labour Party must prioritise social care reform to deliver the change that voters desperately need and deserve.

The dire state of social care

The current social care system in England is failing its most vulnerable citizens. Disabled people face significant financial burdens due to care charges that can consume up to 40% of their income. Local councils, grappling with underfunding from central government, often refer unpaid care charges to debt collection agencies, exacerbating the financial strain on disabled people and their families. This punitive system not only traps people in poverty but also places an immense psychological toll on them.

Carers, who are the backbone of the social care system, are similarly neglected. Often unpaid or underpaid, they face financial hardship and emotional distress. The lack of support for carers also indirectly strains the NHS, as inadequate social care services lead to avoidable hospital admissions and prolonged hospital stays.

Labour’s promises and the path forward

Labour’s manifesto proposed the creation of a National Care Service, designed to ensure consistent care across the country. This service would establish national standards and guarantee fair pay for care workers, aiming to improve recruitment and ease the burden on the NHS. While these promises are a step in the right direction, they need to be backed by adequate funding and concrete policies to address the systemic issues in social care.

One significant promise from Labour is the implementation of a cap on social care costs. This measure, set to take effect from October 2025, could provide some financial relief to those burdened by exorbitant care charges. However, Labour must go much further to end the scandal of social care charging altogether. Ensuring that social care is free at the point of use, similar to the NHS, would be a transformative step towards a fairer system.

Lessons from local successes

Positive changes at the local level offer a blueprint for national reform. For instance, Labour-run Westminster City Council has significantly reduced social care charges and increased carers’ pay.  Tower Hamlets and Hammersmith and Fulham are promising free social care. These progressive changes highlight the tangible benefits of Labour policies when effectively implemented. Nationally, Labour must adopt and expand these successful local initiatives to create a comprehensive and equitable social care system.

The role of opposition parties

While Labour are in charge with a large majority , pressure from opposition parties, particularly the Liberal Democrats and Greens, could play a crucial role in shaping social care reform. The Liberal Democrats propose ambitious reforms, including free personal care and a national care agency to set minimum standards. Their policies align closer to Labour’s vision than the previous Tory government so could foster a coalition that champions progressive changes in social care.

The moral imperative for reform

The need for social care reform transcends political affiliations; it is a moral imperative. The current system’s failures are not just a political issue but a human rights concern. Disabled people and their carers deserve dignity, respect, and adequate support. By prioritising social care reform, Starmer’s government can demonstrate its commitment to social justice and improve the lives of a million vulnerable people in England.

Conclusion: a call to action

Keir Starmer and his Labour government have an unprecedented opportunity to enact meaningful change in the social care sector. The urgency of reform cannot be overstated. By prioritising social care, Labour can address the systemic injustices that have long plagued disabled people and their carers forever. This would lay the foundation for a fairer, more compassionate society.

Labour must act decisively and ambitiously to reform the social care system. Doing so will not only rectify a deeply flawed system but also reaffirm the party’s commitment to those who need it most. As the new government takes shape, the eyes of the nation, particularly its most vulnerable citizens, are watching and waiting for that Labour campaign buzzword “change”.

Colin Hughes is a former BBC producer who campaigns for greater access and affordability of technology for disabled people

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