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Jeremy Cooper

The impossible commitment in the Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s Speech this week included this rather attention-grabbing sentence: ‘My Government will bring forward proposals to reform adult social care in England to ensure dignity in old age’.

What is meant by that? From my understanding, the government is thinking of two things:

  1. Policy change – the long awaited green/white paper (expected to be focused on how we pay for care)
  2. More money for social care

If I’m right, it means there is both good news and bad news for the government. The bad news: taking action on these two items alone will not ensure dignity in old age. The good news: don’t sweat it, because it isn’t in the government’s power to ensure such a thing.

Aiming for dignity in people’s later years is a fantastic challenge that I wholeheartedly agree we should strive for. But let’s be realistic, what would it truly take to ensure this? It would take fundamental culture and behavioural change in 149 local councils – something that (at least thus far) policy has never delivered. Ensuring dignity is a task that goes way beyond the boundaries of social care, and even beyond other public services of health, housing, benefits, community support. It would take changed expectations and behaviour of citizens –a whole new social contract.

It is tempting to see the problem and the adult social care system as ‘complicated’. But the system is actually complex, not just complicated. This is not a matter of degree, it is a different category. It cannot be controlled through money or policy. In fact it can’t be controlled, only managed.

We reflected on this as we launched The EDGEWORK Manifesto this week. EDGEWORK is our philosophy of change, based on an understanding of that complexity. We believe that the challenge of dignity can be met, but it involves working differently and across boundaries, and setting different success measures.

We should absolutely accept the challenge to ensure dignity in old age. But let’s not allow ourselves to believe that the Government can do that on its own. We all need to get involved.

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