The Chancellor calls the cuts "difficult decisions" yet he looks like a man who has lost no sleep over them.Deidre Brock MP
This is an article I wrote about the impact of austerity measures on provision of social care services. It was published in Politics First magazine, where it's also available online.
The wounds from relentless austerity measures
Deidre Brock, Scottish National Party MP for Edinburgh North and Leith
This year's much-hyped "Man on the Moon" advert from John Lewis highlighted the loneliness faced by so many of our older population around Christmas. The tale was somewhat bittersweet; an isolated chap is given a telescope, through which he can watch others tuck into a hearty family dinner, but not join in himself. A sneaky nod, perhaps, to the loss of so many meals-on-wheels services under George Osborne's austerity axe.
The story serves as a timely reminder of the need to reach out to our neighbours, of all ages, and of the interconnected society on which we all depend. There are vast numbers of people in the UK who feel lonely and cut off from the outside world; AgeUK states a shocking one million older people regularly go a whole month without speaking to anyone. It is a sad indictment of society that half of all older people see the television as their main form of company.
Yet however well-intentioned the sentiment, a glossy marketing campaign will not build a fairer society and end social isolation – we need good governance and well-supported care to do this.
By choosing a path of austerity at all costs, the UK Government is creating the conditions for more men and women to feel removed from society. Slashing the resources to provide decent social care affects the wellbeing not just of older people but those with disabilities, mental health issues and victims of abuse. Thousands upon thousands of vulnerable people become increasingly marginalised as they no longer receive the support they should be entitled to expect.
The level of cuts being imposed by the Conservative government is not a necessity, but a choice. We are watching the fabric of society being unravelled, every stitch being cut by a privileged few who are ideologically opposed to public services run for the benefit of the public. The Chancellor calls the cuts "difficult decisions" yet he looks like a man who has lost no sleep over them.
The November spending review's additional cuts will offer little comfort to the providers of social care, so many of whom are already running on empty – budgets and grants frozen or reduced, jobs lost and stressed-out staff left fire-fighting, instead of improving lives as they would wish. The prospect of further cuts is not only unfair; it is short-sighted. Social care improves health and wellbeing, and without it there is increased pressure on the NHS.
Scotland can and does plough its own furrow in provision of social care services. One example is free personal and nursing care which has been provided for all over 65s who need it since 2002 – something that Tony Blair's Labour party rejected. That policy has provided greater security and dignity to many older people, and has seen a rise in people who are cared for in their own homes.
But while sensible policymakers in Scotland work to better integrate and protect our health and social care services, it is against the backdrop of available resources being brutally slashed year-on-year. The block grant has been cut by around 2.6 billion since 2011, with further 5 per cent spending cuts now expected over the next four years. The Scottish Government is left to put sticking plasters over the wounds that relentless austerity measures are inflicting on society.
The UK's debt and deficit can be brought down without the need for such huge spending cuts. The SNP put forward a fiscally responsible alternative which would allow an additional £150 billion to be invested in our public services. Instead, the Chancellor chose to press ahead with his reckless austerity agenda, which only magnifies the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.
Social care, in all its forms, is an essential safety net that allows people to enjoy a better quality of life and to participate in society. I want to live in a country where no-one is left feeling like they are on another planet; but we need properly resourced social services to help make this happen.