Baroness Altman, former Minister of State for Pensions and a leading pension campaigner, recently described the Budget’s injection of an extra £2 billion for social care over the next three years as welcome, but not enough. Her commentary not only highlighted the gap between what is required for the social care sector and what the government has pledged, but also the effects this crisis is having on the families of those requiring care.
The Baroness paid particular attention to women who have given up their careers, or pull back from them, in order to care for elderly relatives. Whilst there has rightly been an increased focus on supporting women in their careers when they have children, this isn’t the case when it comes to caring for elderly dependents. Indeed, whilst the media focuses on the funding crisis and the impact this has on recipients of care, there is an equally growing ‘hidden cost’ to the million plus elderly people with a care need who are not supported by the state, according to Age UK, and the growing numbers of family carers, often women, who are supporting them.
It is still unquestionably women who we as a society picture in caring roles, either unpaid or professional. The 2011 census found that 58% of unpaid carers are women, and this imbalance proves our preconceptions. Women make up 46% of the workforce, and if the social care reforms do not do more to help them to keep working as their parents age, the work that was done to help women stay in the workplace when they had children is at risk of being undermined.
The Age UK report of February 2017 into how the Government should best address the social care crisis called for a multifaceted solution. It approves of the Government’s policy to integrate health and social care services and provide longer term solutions to the crisis, rather than just relying on just regular cash injections or, as some Ministers have suggested, that ‘families must do more’.
Age UK has argued that the forthcoming Green Paper should seek active engagement with the public, and involve those who are directly affected by these policies – so that it fully reflect the views of those whose lives are impacted by the costs of unpaid care. If the Green Paper communicates with both those needing social care and those providing it, the Government will be able to address how best to create a system that works for all, including the women who Baroness Altman described.