Crisis In Social Care Warning From Minister

Britain is facing a crisis in social care as significant as climate change, a government minister has warned. There will be a £6bn-a-year shortfall in caring for elderly people in 20 years’ time, based on current levels of taxation and a growing elderly population. By 2028 the number of people over 65 in Norfolk will have increased by 57pc, while those over 85 will have increased by 102pc.

The new care services minister, Phil Hope, was in Norwich yesterday as part of a national tour to debate the future of the care system.

He said: “It is an equivalent challenge to climate change. In the same way people want to take a radical approach to tackling climate change, we need a radical reform to address the effects of demographic change.

“If nothing changed there would be a gap of £6bn between the same level of care we provide at the moment and the money we have to pay for it.”

He added: “This is my top priority. It is not going to go away, we have to do something about it.”

The options for dealing with the problem might include drastic increases in taxation, compulsory saving for old age, or shifting more of the burden on to families. Mr Hope said he had not formed any views, adding: “This is the listening stage of the process.”

Mr Hope attended a regional consultation event at the Holiday Inn in north Norwich, for local politicians, NHS representatives and users of social services to give their views.

Media were not allowed into the event, but views expressed by some of the 100-strong audience included concern about different levels of social services-funded care in different parts of the country, and questions about what can be done to fund the service in the long term.

One of those at the event was North Norfolk MP and Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb. He said afterwards: “This is a massive issue. We have got this demographic time bomb, this ageing population and a completely unfair system of funding where people who have worked hard all their lives find they are excluded from help from the state.”

Public sector union Unison and Norwich North MP Ian Gibson are calling for better pay for care workers who may earn no more than the minimum wage. It is estimated in Norfolk there are up to 1,000 people who are employed by private care companies in Norfolk, many of whom get paid much less than public sector staff.

Jonathan Dunning, from Unison, said: “There are care workers in the county who are being paid pretty much the minimum wage. The problem is the county council have contracted out to a number of private companies and they compete for these contracts.”

Dr Gibson said: “To be on a basic minimum wage for this sort of work is outrageous. I am meeting with some carers this week to see what we can do about this problem. It is not fair that if you work for one private company you might get paid the minimum wage while some people in other parts of the country get treble the pay.”

Norfolk County Council said it was renewing the number of tenders for its home care contracts, which could enable providers to reconsider their terms and conditions.