Zöe Franklin: Social care needs proper funding - I speak from experience

May 19, 2017 2:18 PM
By Zöe Franklin

After dropping our children off at school yesterday (Thursday 18th May) I listened to the Today programme and found myself shouting at the radio as the subject of the Conservative manifesto was discussed. However, my anger turned to fury as the presenter outlined Tory plans for social care.

If I look back five years, I didn't have a clue about social care, it was something that happened to other people and would eventually happen to me but was a long way off. However, that all changed in summer 2012 when my grandfather fell and ended up in hospital. He was discharged after a while with a limited care at home package organised by social services. After this six-week period we had to fight to to get the information needed in order to organise continued care. It began to emerge that all was not well with my grandmother's health and within a year we found ourselves in the sad position of both grandparents being admitted to hospital within 24 hours of each other; it becoming clearly apparent that they would not be able to return home.

It was probably one of the most difficult moments of our family's life when we were told, on the Thursday before the long Easter break, that there was nothing more that could be done for my grandparents in hospital. They needed to be discharged and if we didn't find them care provision either in their own home or in a care home, we would be charged per night for bed blocking.

No help was offered to find the appropriate care provision for my grandparents, we were simply told to go and find a solution ourselves. Angry and upset we did what most typically stoic British families do - we gave the hospital a polite piece of our minds, were begrudgingly given an extension to the deadline and set to the task of finding a care home. 22 care homes later, we finally found somewhere we were happy with and that my grandparents could probably afford.

It was a stressful and distressing experience.

We were then told afterwards by NHS staff that there was lots of help available for navigating the process and they apologised that we had not received it. Crucially, social services had omitted to contact us because we were self-funded, when actually how care is funded is irrelevant to whether assistance is given. A clear example of where having care and hospitals separate meant we slipped through the gap.

Then there was the cost of a care home, which frankly astounded me.

My grandparents had a good, modest income from pensions and had, like many of their generation been careful with their money. They had saved for their retirement. However it very quickly became clear that pensions and savings would not cover their bills and together we made the heartbreaking decision to sell their home in order to pay for their care. They lived out the final years of their lives in a care home run by caring, considerate, largely EU national staff and were, I'm pleased to say, happy and comfortable.

What annoys me intensely is that, like so many elderly people in the UK, my grandparents worked hard all their lives, were careful, served their country during World War II and paid taxes. Yet in the final years of their lives they were let down by the fact that the NHS is on its knees and unable to cope under falling budgets. The NHS doesn't dovetail with the social care system which meant that when a joined up approach was most needed to give consistency and help they instead fell down the gap between the two. To add insult to injury they were then made to sell their home and decimate their savings in order to pay for their own care. Is this fair?

Having experienced all of this I am absolutely committed to ensuring that social care is:

  • properly funded: elderly people should contribute towards care that they need in later life but they should also be able expect the government to help foot their bill and not have to spend their last penny leaving nothing for their family

  • joined up with the NHS: social care and the NHS must work together seamlessly if we are to have a system that is fit for purpose. Without a joined up system people will continue to be left stranded in hospital after treatment ends or they will fall through the gap between the NHS and social care system.

I am therefore proud that as a party we, the Liberal Democrats, have set out in our manifesto a clear and sustainable approach for saving the NHS and social care. We do not say it will be easy. It will not, but often the answer to a problem is not to do the easiest thing but to be honest and do what is right and what is needed.

How the Liberal Democrats' plan for social care compares with the Conservatives

Liberal Democrats
Provide an additional £6 billion in ring-fenced funding which can only be spent on NHS and social care services.
Remove the £72k cap on social care meaning that your bill is effectively unlimited. This penalises those who have saved for their retirement or in order to pass something on to their family.
Establish a health and social care review alongside other parties, the public, patients groups and professionals to look at creating a long-term, sustainable plan for the future of the services.
The value of your home will now be taken into account when you are assessed for help to pay care bills - currently it is only taken into account if you move into residential care.
Create a budget monitoring agency which would report every 3 years on how much money the health and care system needs in order to deliver its services .
Enable everyone to defer payment of bills until after death preventing people from having to sell their home during their lifetime to pay care bills. However, they will still have to sell after death to pay bills meaning that it can't be passed on to families.
A long term goal of bringing together NHS and social care into one joined up service.
Retain the status quo of two separate systems.