Stewart Golton: Put care into control of communities

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How do we care for our elderly when everyone is living longer but the public purse isn’t getting any bigger?

We’re often told we should be more like other cultures that traditionally care for relatives within the family home. However, our economy has developed by encouraging potential carers to enter the workplace instead, and we already do have millions of carers looking after loved ones at home, more often than not taking a financial toll for doing so.

It also should be noted that ‘traditional cultures’ that care for relatives within the home often do so in the absence of a functioning welfare state, and the fact that we have sustained ours for almost a century has delivered longer, happier, healthy lives for us to look forward to.

Everyone agrees that the system can only continue if we spend more on it. The problem is, the political leaders at Westminster seem incapable of agreeing a fair means of achieving it.

Theresa May’s recent attempt to push the cost back on homeowners went down 
like a lead balloon, and probably cost her party its majority.

As a Leeds City councillor, 
I can’t control the amount 
of money that comes in 
from government, nor how much is taken from the taxpayer.

However, once that funding arrives at the Civic Hall, the 
way that it is spent can have a huge impact on Leeds families, and the Leeds economy.

Even in these constrained times, billions of pounds are spent on care in Leeds every year, and this will only continue to rise.

However, that money 
will need to deliver ever more, and the key to making sure 
we invest in ever better care is 
if we put communities in control.

Councils take decisions on our behalf in our best interests, however this is not always the case.

Often this is because politicians would rather play the blame game about why they “have to” close homes etc, instead of using their role to develop a local care economy that safeguards its future.

Here in Leeds, a Labour Council has overseen the wholesale privatisation of residential and homecare by awarding contracts to independent providers which tend to be big national or international companies. Councils expect the private sector to fill the vacuum they leave when they close council homes, but now commercial providers are feeling the pressure themselves.

To protect the profit margin, many operators are concentrating on the luxury end of care, but where does this leave older people on limited incomes?

Where do carers go for respite care if private providers decide not to include it in their business model? How do families keep up regular visits when the local council home is gone, and the only care bed available is miles away?

The solution? Put communities in control of care for their area.

Encourage social enterprises (whose profits go back into the business) that can deliver affordable residential, respite, daycare and homecare. Set up local social care boards that act like school governors do, monitoring and quality checking care providers in a local area.

Finally, develop Credit Union-style elderly care insurance that invests in and encourages the local care economy.

Stewart Golton is leader of the Lib Dem Group on Leeds City Council.

Alex Newman, partner at Irwin Mitchell in Leeds

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