SARAH VINE: The issue of social care MUST be tackled once and for all

SARAH VINE: No more homes sold, no more sad endings – the issue of social care MUST be tackled once and for all

I don’t suppose many of the young Extinction Rebellion protesters currently clogging the streets of Westminster spend much time worrying about Alzheimer’s. Even if it were to cross their minds, they’re probably so convinced of the planet’s imminent demise they don’t think it will ever concern them.

But it concerns plenty of others. Which is why Mail readers in their hundreds of thousands have signed our petition calling for an end to the great betrayal of the sick and the vulnerable over the funding of dementia care.

Yesterday, having fought my way through a horde of those climate activists, I joined Angela Rippon and others in delivering our petition to the door of No 10 Downing Street. It is a clarion call to the Government that the issue of social care – and in particular dementia care – must be tackled once and for all before more homes are sold, more lives ended in sadness and despair.

Now, we must hope this petition – and the campaign the Mail has been running in recent months – will serve as a turning point. It certainly felt like that yesterday when we were greeted by the Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

I joined Angela Rippon and others in delivering our petition to the door of No 10 Downing Street

He reiterated his commitment, and the Prime Minister’s, to ending this inequality. And I believe him: his own parents bought their council house. He knows first hand how much these things really matter – how much families work and strive and save not only to own their own home, but to be able to pass that home on to their children.

My one regret is that, even if the Government sets up an emergency fund to stop the imminent sale of people’s homes, for many it will be too late – as a flood of readers’ stories have explained in such heartbreaking detail. Take, for example, Sharon Muranyi, who launched our petition, whose war veteran father was forced to sell his beloved cottage to fund care after he was diagnosed with vascular dementia.

The fundamental problem with the current system is that if you get cancer, diabetes, asthma, arthritis or any other such ailment, these will be treated and cared for by the NHS. But a diagnosis of dementia means you’re on your own (unless, including your home, you have assets worth less than £23,250). Because dementia, astonishingly, is classed as a social care need, not a medical one.

After I wrote about this issue in my Mail column back in July, the response from readers was overwhelming, each story more heartbreaking than the last. Tales of crippling care costs, uncaring local authorities, sub-standard care and above all an overwhelming sense of injustice at the unfairness of a system that seems to penalise hard work and financial responsibility. 

There was anger, too. As one reader put it: ‘Those who have scrimped and saved on meagre wages to pay off mortgages throughout their lives, but were still lucky enough to have saved something towards their retirement, are having it guzzled up by this utterly unfair system.’

Another said simply: ‘Why did I bother to strive all those years? Why did I bother to be self-sufficient?’ Quite. Especially when care homes charge private individuals considerably more than local authorities for exactly the same service, meaning many feel that as well as having to sell all their worldly goods, they are also subsidising state care.

In his inaugural speech as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson acknowledged the gravity of the situation

As one reader, now 83, who left school at 15 to start work, put it: ‘I finally saved enough to buy my house, only for it to be taken from me to fund my wife’s care. Meanwhile, those who saved nothing get financial assistance.’

A few weeks later, the scale of the problem was brought sharply into relief by a report showing that over the past two years, families have spent nearly £15billion caring for relatives with dementia, at an average cost of £100,000 a year. Again, story after story of beloved parents and grandparents stripped of their lifetime assets to meet care costs poured in.

Now, at last, it seems that the message is starting to get through. Thanks to the Mail’s campaign, your stories and the hard work of many more, we have a better chance than ever of finding a solution to this growing problem.

In his inaugural speech as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson acknowledged the gravity of the situation. ‘My job is to protect you or your parents or grandparents from the fear of having to sell your home to pay for the costs of care,’ he said.

‘And so I am announcing now – on the steps of Downing Street – that we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all.’

It was an important moment. Social care is now high up on the political agenda.

Inevitably, it will take time for long-term changes to filter through into the system. But governments can and do move fast when they want to. In any case, we have to start somewhere. We owe it to future sufferers, to all those millions of people who will otherwise find themselves not only stripped of their dignity by this cruellest of diseases, but also of everything they’ve ever strived for.

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