Theresa May is not the only potential casualty of this election. The social care issue has taken a pretty severe political beating as well. After May promised not to “duck the issue”, many in local government had hoped that the campaign would make some real progress towards a resolution of the long-running crisis. It hasn’t quite worked out like that.
The Conservative manifesto made the UK’s ageing society one of the “five big challenges” facing the country alongside headline issues like Brexit and the economy. And the social care policy she proposed was indeed bold. But the media reaction and, it appears, the voters’ was overwhelmingly negative.
It may well be that the hostility arose not from the fact that May proposed a bold response but that she proposed a policy that was misconceived (which indeed it was). One that many older voters saw as an attack on their homes and legacies. But there is a high risk now that politicians will not interpret it that way. The assumption could well emerge that social care has proved to be a “third rail” in politics killing anyone who touches it.
Added to this is the election result itself. A government with a very slim majority nervous about another snap election struggling with even tougher Brexit negotiations is not likely to be a government that will launch into a resource-sapping, risky attempt to resolve social care.
This will, of course, be a disaster. The social care funding crisis has not gone away. Our population will keep on ageing. The issue needs to be sorted out. Such a failure will be particularly frustrating because there was clearly an emerging consensus with Liberal Democrats and Labour also proposing new radical policies. And since the Dilnot Commission everyone knows roughly what a fair and effective solution looks like even if some of the details remain in dispute.
Westminster politicians are likely to be caught up in months of intrigue and plotting following this election but they owe it to the British people not to let that distract them from this fundamental moral issue. Most importantly, all parties must resist the temptation to keep using social care as a political point-scoring machine even if that temptation is strong with another election possibly around the corner.
So, local Government must keep up the noise and pressure. Support must be offered to those honourable MPs who may be willing to use this unusual period to forge a cross-party alliance on the issue. Indeed, wise party leaders, who know they have to say something meaningful on social care but fear suffering May’s fate, could be persuaded to see that such an alliance could make the issue a much safer one for them come an election. It would also have the rather positive benefit of offering security and dignity to many future generations in need of care!