Just a few days to go now, not just to the Christmas build up, but also before we are encouraged to vote in one of the most crucial elections of recent UK history. The outcome will set the strategy for not just economic and social policy, but also a course which will decide whether the UK will hold together in its current form (4 countries with increasing devolution), or split into constituent parts; the latter course may take years, possibly decades to come about, a process that seems to have been evolving for many years.

There are so many issues to think about prior to casting your precious vote, not least, how can you vote to make the most difference for the changes you want to happen. In Oxfordshire, local issues appear to be focused on housing, transport (the proposed Oxford-Cambridge Expressway), both linked to the Oxfordshire Growth Strategy, but equally we know we have a massive recruitment problem for all sectors in the County. Above all of this is of course Brexit and its likely impact when / if implemented.

I wonder how many people have come knocking at your door canvassing you for your vote? What were the issues they raised? What were the issues you raised? Treatment of businesses? Taxation? Transport, housing, education perhaps, NHS almost certainly. Was social care amongst the issues discussed? Did the candidate/ canvasser know what they were talking about. Did they have a real grasp of the key issues? Were they able to answer any questions with confidence and truthfulness?

A recent article published by the London School of Economics painted a depressing picture of the major political parties’ understanding of what social care is all about. They found that none of the three major English parties appeared to know how to resolve the pressures and provide a clear vision for the future. Whilst the manifestos might describe the challenges, there appears to be a bigger vacuum than ever in clarity of policy. The LSE points out, quite rightly, that whilst social care demand is framed around older people, a state we may all aspire too as a healthy individual, actually half the people using social care are younger (working age) adults. Therefore, the current fixation on not requiring people to sell their homes to pay for social care is a red herring, as most social care users do not have homes to sell.

A national care service (deliberate lower case) is perhaps the nearest we get to a vision of what might support our National Health Service; in effect a social arm of a national care and support service. However, there is little in the way of what this might look like, and like other key policies in party manifestos, only ball-park funding, not costed plans. This is in line with much of the rest of the manifesto promises; aptly for the month before Christmas, we see attractive, sparkling baubles, which may promise more than they actually deliver.

The only thing on which the three main parties appear to agree on, is a cross-party consensus for the future of the social care system. Now, call me cynical, but haven’t we spent the best part of three years watching Parliament agree on pretty much nothing. Isn’t that why we’re having the first election in December since 1923 and only the fifth time ever?

As people working in the sector, we all know the pressures, both locally within our own organisations and an appreciation generally across the whole sector. We know that the current system is creaking and is actually broken for some. The process of accessing care and support for many is not just a postcode lottery, but a lucky dip in Santa’s sack. Once this election is done, whatever the outcome, it is up to all of us to address the issues; inform our new local MPs, discuss solutions with them and force them into working together to make decisions that will benefit all of us in the future.

If we don’t, the recent past of social care, its current predicament and future pressures will be a nightmare worthy of a Dickens sequel to A Christmas Carol; the ghosts will continue to haunt us until we find a resolution for all the Scrooges, Bob Cratchits and Tiny Tims.

Eddy McDowall

Chief Executive, OACP