Liz Kendall – 2021 Speech on the Importance of Social Care

The speech made by Liz Kendall, the Shadow Care Minister, on 28 April 2021.

If you neglect your country’s physical infrastructure you get roads full of potholes, and buckling bridges, which prevent your economy functioning properly. The same is true if you fail to invest in social infrastructure.

President Biden gets this, which is why he has made investment in home care a central plan of his post-pandemic Infrastructure Plan.

When the virus struck, our care system was more vulnerable than it ever should have been. The conservatives weakened its foundations with an £8 billion cut from local authority social care budgets since 2010, despite growing demand.

This was compounded by a failure to grasp the deep rooted and long standing problems in our care system, which must be addressed if we are to build a care system that is fit for the future.

We have a welfare state in the 2020s built on the life expectancy of the 1940s. When the NHS was created, average life expectancy for men was 63. Now it’s 80, and 1 in 4 babies born today are set to live to 100 years old. Our health and care system has struggled to keep pace with these changes, with social care in particular developing in a piecemeal, fragmented way.

One of the underlying reasons for this is that caring just isn’t valued like other professions. It’s seen as women’s work, mostly left to families, and if they can’t cope provided by some of the lowest paid workers in this country – the vast majority of whom are women, with many from Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.

Many of us will spend over a third of our lives beyond the traditional retirement age, but our economy, public services and wider welfare state have barely begun to wake up to this fact.

Changing this requires political leadership to seize the opportunities, and tackle the challenges, our century of ageing brings.

But so far our politics has proved woefully inadequate: too short-term in its thinking, too narrow in its horizons and too limited in its ambitions. Labour’s missions is to change this – in social care and many other areas.

Our aim isn’t merely to ‘fix the crisis in social care’ – as the Prime Minister has repeatedly promised – but to transform support for all older and disabled people, as part of a much wider ambition to make this the best country in which to grow old.

Labour understands that – in the century of ageing – social care is as much a part of our economic infrastructure as the roads and the railways.

If you neglect your country’s physical infrastructure you get roads full of potholes, and buckling bridges, which prevent your economy functioning properly. The same is true if you fail to invest in social infrastructure.

President Biden gets this, which is why he has made investment in home care a central plan of his post-pandemic Infrastructure Plan.

Britain deserves this level of ambition too. We need a 10 year plan of investment and reform – not simply to put more money into a broken system.

Labour’s priority will be to empower older and disabled people to live the life they choose, fundamentally shifting the focus of support towards prevention and early help, under the guiding principle of ‘home first’ – because that’s what the overwhelming majority of people want.