Labour is expected to take the “historic step” of calling for the full integration of social care into the NHS south of the border, when the party meets in Brighton this week.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham told Holyrood that he has the backing of party leader Ed Miliband and shadow chancellor Ed Balls to set out his vision for one service looking after the whole person.
The expected announcement comes as the Scottish Parliament has already begun scrutinising legislation to facilitate the integration of health and social care services in Scotland. The Scottish Government’s Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Bill seeks to achieve greater joint working between health boards, local authorities and other partners in a bid to improve outcomes and also the efficiency of services.
Burnham told Holyrood that the status quo in England is “fundamentally unacceptable”.
“I think people are way ahead of politicians on this and in England, governments of all colours have for many years had an approach of disinvestment towards social care and allowed people to pay charges, etc and what that has left us with is a malnourished, minimum wage, zero-hours social care system dishing out social care in 15-minute slots, with barely time to make a cup of tea, never mind have a meaningful conversation and so my argument is that that will never provide enough care for my parents or for anyone’s parents. The message we are sending out is that looking after someone’s parents is the lowest calling you can answer in society and that can not possibly be right, so if you are serious about changing that then you need to be serious about saying we need to pay differently for social care and I am, so I don’t shy away from that.”
Burnham also revealed that he hopes to see greater consistency of health policies across the border. Since responsibility for health was devolved to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, it has used its powers to pursue separate flagship policies such as free personal care, free eye tests, and free prescriptions, and also chose to introduce the groundbreaking ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces a year ahead of England. However, while Burnham professes to be a “huge advocate” of devolution, he suggests that it now needs to enter a “different phase”.
“That is why I am talking quite passionately about getting English Labour MPs back up the road and for me, sitting down with Neil [Findlay] and Richard [Simpson] and Rhoda [Grant] and others and saying, let’s get health policies that can be consistent across England, Scotland and Wales. Wouldn’t that be a good thing, pulling in the same direction as opposed to pulling our separate ways? Devolution, in its early days, was about doing something different and it needs to enter a different phase where we start talking again more about a UK-wide policy because in the end, that helps everybody.”