Care is in crisis. Growing numbers of older people need care, but fewer older people are actually getting help. That means more and more older people are paying for care themselves, or rely on family/friends, or struggle without help.
Meantime, for childcare, although not everything is 'rosey', there have been some major steps forwards over the last twenty years (following several decades of campaigning led by women.) There has been substantial investment in universal services: free childcare for all three/four year olds - first 12.5 hours a week, then 15 hours, and soon 30 hours a week following a bidding war between the political parties during the last general election campaign. There is help for all parents with paying for childcare on the way through tax breaks and universal credit. We have seen a ten year childcare strategy, family information services and sufficiency assessments in every local authority area, children's centres in most communities, investment and training of the workforce and fixed ratios for staff to children helping boost quality.
Importantly childcare is seen as key to driving and supporting economic growth. Of course there are still issues re affordability, quality and funding but childcare has become a political priority. Childcare is seen as key to helping parents and mothers, in particular, to work or return to work and to promote child development. Adult care should be seen as key to helping family carers and older workers to stay in, or return to work, to promote independent living, and to support an ageing population.
There are five lessons I would draw from the childcare revolution for improving eldercare:
1. The vision thing - we need to be ambitious and think big; this is an issue for the whole country; we need a big vision for better integrated care in modern Britain, that is signed up to and shared widely.
2. The importance of universality; universal childcare has been described as being as important as the founding of the NHS in political rhetoric; it's seen as everybody's business - and everybody benefits; men in government - from Blair and Brown to Cameron and Osborne - have all championed childcare; similarly we and our families will all need care at some point in our lives; care needs to become a universal issue, with universal solutions that help us all.
3. Funding is the bottom line. We need to make the economic argument for investment in care and for investing in the quality, pay and status of workforce; this could include commissioning a cost-benefit analysis of universal care, and using international comparisons to learn from other countries; this analysis should show how universal care would provide massive economic benefits, enabling older workers to stay in work and providing growing numbers of jobs.
4. Making the case - just as childcare problems for parents and families with children were made using statistics and case studies, we need to make the case for care real, connecting to families' real experiences, showing the impact on women, as carers and workers, just like the Age UK story re older carers did last week; we need to show how older people and their families' situations are going to get worse without action by government; we need to turn millions of private concerns into public issues.
5. Moving the issue from the margins to the mainstream - alongside housing, the NHS, schools, jobs, and transport, care needs to be seen as a key part of our infrastructure to make Britain work better; we need a wide-ranging coalition, not just those involved in the care world and not just the Care and Support Alliance; headlines like 'poor childcare 'hurts economy'' as argued recently by the British Chambers of Commerce are needed for care; mainstreaming requires a wide-range of support from influential organisations, and the public, families and the media.
So for better care, the messages are: think big, think universal, think funding and economics, think real families and think mainstream.
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