As printed in the Wetherby News on Thursday 2nd February 2017.
It has been said that you should judge a society by the way it treats its elderly. If this is true then Wetherby should be looked upon as an example of how to get it right.
Last Saturday I joined an army of helpers, including Town Mayor Norma Harrington, local MP Alec Shelbrooke and Wetherby Councillor Alan Lamb, to dish up a feast to over one hundred pensioners at the annual senior citizens’ lunch.
The event, paid for and organised by volunteers in the Wetherby Lions Club, was – aside from being a good old knees up, a positive story in what otherwise feels like a mixture of pessimism when it comes to talking about issues related to adult social care.
This was no better exemplified than at a recent meeting of Leeds City Council.
Across the political divide there exists an agreement that further reform is needed in the way councils fund adult social care. Where discord arises, however, is how a solution to the problem can be found. Pressures on social care budgets have no singular cause and neither will the solution be one-dimensional.
Since 1997 the UK has seen a 37 per cent rise in its population aged 85 and over. Investment in pharmaceutical research and development has led to the licencing of new medicines that are saving lives, which alongside pensioners enjoying more active lifestyles has led to people living longer than ever before.
These successes, welcome as they are, have led to a problem rarely admitted in public health debate: people are living longer and the state hasn’t prepared for the cost of these extra personal health and care requirements.
This specific pressure has been on the horizon for decades but until recently health policy seemed to focus more on a catch-all national health service than on an adult social care system with the ability to relieve pressure on hospitals and health services.
Last year the government spent £140 billion on health services, of which £107 billion alone was spent on the NHS.
These figures are significant, not least because it’s the most any government has ever spent on the NHS – between 2009/10 and 2019/20 spending on the NHS in England will have risen by nearly £35 billion, yet we’re still told by the clinicians responsible for delivering services that this funding still isn’t enough.
At the same time we have increasing tension in adult social care budgets.
Consequently, political debate at Leeds City Council has turned to the issue of financial management and there is an ever-growing need for sensible evidence-based discussion on basic income and expenditure.
It is for this reason that it was all the more vexing when councillors on the ruling benches chose to respond to this issue be bringing forward a motion to rehash all the old failed arguments of their former student politics societies: socialism versus capitalism, public versus private, tax versus spend.
The Chamber heard calls for a punitive earning cap on workers in the UK with a new tax band of one hundred per cent on people earning larger salaries (ignoring the fact that the top 1 per cent of earners in the UK currently pay 27 per cent of all income tax collected). We heard declarations that the ruling benches believe the public sector is good and the private sector bad (even though it is tax revenue collected from activity in the private sector that funds expenditure in the public sector). Finally, we heard calls for a bombshell rise in corporation tax rates (even though economic practise highlights that tax rate reductions result in a smaller loss in revenue than would otherwise be expected as a consequence of tax increases).
All of these arguments made for an interesting flashback to Militant debates of the 1980s, but none provided solutions to pressures in Leeds’ social care system.
The sad truth is, until councillors in Leeds stop rehearsing old political rhetoric and get to grips with how to properly fund adult social care, the first-class way in which third sector organisations treat our elderly in the Wetherby area will be overshadowed by the failure of those responsible for doing so in local government.