The official blog of The Social Democratic Party.

The decay of family social care

The family as a social unit should be considered the bastion of mutual support, and the place where we discover and develop our moral instincts. When these social ties are well practised, the strong will naturally help the weak.

By: William Clouston

Last month, the Conservative Party announced its plans to help alleviate the financial burden faced by many when paying for social care. The Chancellor declared that it would be a ‘permanent new role for government’.

It’s important to note that this new ‘role’ for government is purely an attempt to offer a financial remedy. The problem is simple; social care can amount to a huge financial burden, possibly even tallying to £100,000’s in one person’s lifetime. The answer is to formulate a general tax which would help mitigate such troubling circumstances.

This is a solution of sorts, the details of which should be closely examined.

In the case of social care it seems clear that something needed to change, however are we right to frame the crisis around social care as solely a financial problem?

Surely the subject of social care is intrinsically tied to the fabric of society itself. To discuss such a natural and inevitable part of our life cycle as a financial anomaly seems inappropriate at the least. If we are to find a solution to the social care crisis we must ask difficult questions about the society we live in.

To the social conservative it is obvious that we should talk about the family when talking about social care. Unfortunately any serious discussions to do with the family have been avoided for too long.

In principle the family as a social unit should be considered the bastion of mutual support, and the place where we discover and develop our moral instincts. When these social ties are well practised, the strong will naturally help the weak. In situations when the family becomes overwhelmed by such responsibilities, there are always those from extended family or the community who can help. Of course there will always be a need for a highly trained profession of carers when the situation requires it.

It’s a nice thought but such a view of the family unit now seems hopelessly naïve and utterly redundant in today’s society. But why? Why have we accepted the decay of family ties?

For some perspective; 1 out of 8 adults (6.5 million people) carry out caring responsibilities for either the disabled or the elderly. What’s shocking is that if each of these individuals were paid an average carer salary of £19,336 per year, it would amount to £132 billion nationally. Compare this to the total NHS national budget of 2019/20; which was £150 billion.

This suggests two things.

Firstly that social care has to largely remain an unpaid responsibility. Clearly these unpaid carers save the British taxpayer a monumental amount. It is simply not financially possible to bring social care under the umbrella of government welfare.

There is reason for concern that this new ‘role’ of government risks being too open-ended with its promises, and could even incentivise more people to give up their care responsibilities. This could ulitamtely ammount to a indefinite bill paid for by the public purse.

Secondly; we are a nation of loving and caring people. Shouldn’t government policy be aimed at encouraging and supporting non-paid carers?

Of course, part of this support should be financial. It’s interesting to note that the current Carer’s Allowance is only £67.25 a week for a minimum of 35 hours work, one of the lowest benefits of its kind.

However any financial solution is ultimately incapable of tackling such an issue, for the simple reason that providing care requires hours of labour. This is especially obvious in cases when a live-in carer is needed.

The social care crisis will only be over when the majority of this labour is provided by the family unit itself. It is for this reason that we cannot dismiss or ignore the decline of family ties. Encouraging non-paid carers is synonymous with strengthening family ties. To care for one’s parents should be as natural as how parents care for their children. However, needless to say, this is not happening on a large enough scale.

The social care crisis is therefore a symptom of a rather shocking reality; the decay of the social fabric of society. The culprit of such demise is individualism. It has led to a society of individuals who live ever increasingly atomised lives from one another. We have reached the point in which the basic function of family and community has been largely forgotten.

There are many systematic problems within society which can directly explain the decline in family ties. Let’s just take one; the family home. If there’s going to be one place in which instincts of mutual support are to thrive it is within the home. A study from 2013/14 suggest that only 6.81% of people live in a multigenerational household. There are many explanations for why this is the case, however what should be clear is that such a reality stands in the way of any serious attempt to solve the social care crisis.

Before trying to address this societal decay we must first establish a clear alternative to individualism, an alternative which offers a radically different vision for society, one that reawakens and reimagines the traditional institutions of family and community. Evidently, this is a conversation which is missing from both British politics and the debate over social care.

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All Comments (3)

  • I suspect the national conversation has been missing because it opens up a huge can of political and philosophical worms. And any attempt at a cultural solution to the social care crisis is also coming long after that particular cultural horse has bolted.

    I broadly agree with the points you are making, but how do we even begin to turn around the tide and at least six decades of dogma promoted by our education system, government, advertising and the mass media? Liberal Individualism pervades all of society and dominates the thinking of all mainstream parties of left and right. Of course such individualism, except at its extremes, has always been framed by politicians as the highest personal good. Whether it is left-wing ‘rights’ based individualism or right-wing ‘economic’ individualism, all forms of individualism appeal to our desire for autonomy and freedom from onerous burdens a.k.a. our vanity and our self interest. And now suddenly, when our secular national religion turns out to be financially and socially unsustainable some brave person wants to announce we were duty bound to look after our infirm relatives the whole time? Good luck with that campaign.

    As the left will be quick to point out, almost the whole burden of caring for the elderly and infirm has historically fallen on women. Short of some massive change in the social status of carers (and indeed of housewives and motherhood) along with appropriate financial recognition, any call for a return to family based care will be portrayed as an attempt to take women out of the work place and back into ‘traditional roles’ i.e. as seriously regressive and misogynist.

    Perhaps such a counter attack can be foiled, but we should also be concerned about the other political risks of pushing a ‘pro-family’ and ‘back to basics’ style agenda, however worthy and righteous the cause. It’s not that the message does not resonate with many people, but the messenger and their party becomes a hostage to fortune. The personal life of individuals pushing such an agenda would come under minute scrutiny for any hint of hypocrisy. Indeed the practical political problem could be stated thus:- when trying to start a conversation that in essence is about personal morality, only he or she who is sure they are without sin should cast around such policy proposals.

  • I think there should be more incentives for families to take in and care for their elderly relatives. Transferable tax allowance would be one option. Too many elderly people live unwillingly alone but hate the prospect of being in an elderly care home. More multi-generational housing units should be considered at the heart of communities. There is also a problem with single parent families which could mutually benefit through collaborative housing schemes.

Family, Community, Nation.