06/03/2017 10:06 GMT | Updated 07/03/2018 05:12 GMT

Dead Cats And Red Herrings In Pre-Budget Speculation On Care Crisis


President Trump has accused his predecessor of wiretapping his offices in the run-up to the recent presidential election. Despite providing no evidence so far, the President has diverted attention from his political problems.

This classic 'dead cat' manoeuvre has been deployed many times by politicians in a hole. Get your friends and enemies talking about something else while everyone forgets about the real issues.

Something similar seems to be happening in the pre-Budget speculation about what the government will do in both the short term and the long term to tackle the care crisis.

Everyone agrees that there is a funding crisis in care. Well over a million older and disabled people can't get the care they need. There is a growing postcode lottery, whereby where you live determines what help with care you can get and how much you pay.

The crisis in home care in particular has manifested itself in major problems for the NHS as more older people are admitted to hospital and wait longer to be discharged.

The government's Budget response is expected to involve bringing forward some Better Care funding to 2017-18 to invest in better joint working between health and care.

The government points to 24 local authority areas which account for half of all delayed discharges. There's no doubting the big variations in the way care is funded and delivered across the country. What's not clear is how any extra funding will be distributed and whether it will exacerbate the postcode lottery.

This issue also highlights one of the challenges for the long term. How do you create a care system that is fair, simple and sustainable wherever you live and that is fit for the 21st century offering independence and better quality of life for those needing care and support and their families?

The debate to date has avoided this big question: what kind of care system do we want to create? What is our vision for better care?

Instead the speculation in the lead up to the Budget has gone straight to how care is funded and how extra revenue could be raised. From resurrecting the death tax to revisiting Dilnot and Wanless, debate has focused on the how not the why.

The funding mechanism (and the need for yet another expert review) are huge red herrings. First we need to be clear what we want funded. And if it's a priority for the government, then the funding will be found from taxation.

The government has chosen to invest substantially in childcare in recent years - from doubling the free entitlement to childcare for three and four year olds to making childcare tax free for many families.

All this has been done to improve childcare without any public debate about how it is funded. Childcare is a government priority and it is seen as a key part of our social and economic infrastructure. The government has therefore found the money to pay for it.

Now let's see whether care for older and disabled people is a priority. If it is, then the government will have no problem funding it properly and ensuring that our care system can sustain our ageing population for generations to come.

By all means have a debate on whether we should raise more taxation from income or wealth, but let's do it as part of a debate about government finances.

Enough of the dead cats and red herrings! It's time for a new vision for better care and support.

Stephen Burke is director of Good Care Guide and United for All Ages