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There's no debate – Britain's disabled people are in the grip of a social care emergency

When it comes to social care, the statistics are stark and speak for themselves

Men in England's poorest areas can expect to live to 73, 10 years fewer than in richer areas.

Image: Pixabay

No matter our background, we all have a right to the support we need. You might not have noticed it during Tuesday (4 June) night’s election debate, but away from the bright lights of television studios Britain is in the middle of a social care emergency.

This crisis has at least 10 million disabled people, of all ages and backgrounds, in its grip – and we need immediate change. When it comes to social care, the statistics are stark and speak for themselves. In September 2022, the Care and Support Alliance estimated that 2.6 million people aged 50 and above were living with some unmet need for care in England, with the numbers only growing yearly. Kings Fund research has found that for most younger adults, most requests for support do not translate into access to local authority-funded care. Around 35% of requests for support by younger adults result in no service provided (compared with around 25% for older people).

Yet this situation is likely to get worse before it gets better: According to a BBC investigation, the average UK council faces a £33m deficit by 2025-26, a rise of 60% from £20m two years ago. The country’s largest union, Unison, has warned that local authorities might not be able to offer disabled people the “legal minimum of care” as soon as next year.

The issues go beyond those who draw on the system, not only having trapped disabled people without the support we need but also has created a nightmare for workers. Although care is a crucial profession expected to grow exponentially over the decade, unions and individuals are sounding the alarm. With excessive workloads, high stress levels and low morale are rife among workers at breaking point.

Is this any way for the government to treat us all? As Rick Burgess, co-founder of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, explained to me when I last wrote on this topic, care can often feel much less, well “caring”, as they put forward, most people experience lacks “the essential part of independent living”, the idea that disabled people agree on that social care should be a system that helps break down the disabling barriers we face across society, rather than a simple list of tasks for an under-paid, time-rushed, agency worker on a zero hours contract to do.

The issues go beyond funding but right to the very core of how our system is designed. More and more disabled people are being pushed into debt just for receiving the support we need. An analysis carried out in spring 2022 identified around 90,000 people who were already unable to keep up with their care contributions.

In this context, ending social care charges should have been discussed at the podiums last night. Millions of people who tuned in to the debate last night will have been angry and disappointed that those who can fix such a crisis are ignoring it. We need social care to be free at the point of use – no if ands or buts.

There are sparks of hope that we could see our political discourse move forward. The Liberal Democrats unveiled a plan for free personal care, which is the first policy we have heard from the major parties that validates what disabled people have been saying for decades: that social care should be free at the point of use and that reform should be funded from general taxation.

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We should hope that this proposal drives other parties to come up with plans for reform, which puts the independence of disabled people at the centre and commits to major financial investment. Care and support should be about enabling us to live with choice and control over our lives, connecting us with the communities around us. It should not be a list of ‘care tasks‘, which gives us the absolute minimum to survive.

In spite of this new proposal, we know that only our movement has a plan for social care that fixes it for care workers and those in receipt of care. The demand is radical but also tangible: we are unified by our goal of a National Independent Living Service (NILS).

We need a NILS boldly reimagining how care and support for disabled people of all ages in England should be organised and delivered.

Our community wants a radical approach developed by disabled people who draw on social care. Our model, which would be led by disabled people, would be person-centred and empowering and enable disabled people to thrive rather than just survive.  

Underpinned by the principles of choice and control, nothing about us without us, and the right to independent living. We believe that NILS could recognise and address other forms of discrimination experienced by disabled people, including racism, ageism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. But this future is one that we won’t get through words but through actions: we don’t need debates; we need to get together to build power for all disabled people through campaigning for our manifesto.

Mikey Erhardt is a campaigner at Disability Rights UK.

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