May must come clean on social care

May 16, 2017   By Adam Lent, Director, NLGN

The issues crying out for solutions in this election remain woefully unaddressed. For years the UK has struggled with a rapidly ageing population, an unbalanced economy and a mess of a housing market. Politicians of every party have promised a lot and delivered little in all of these areas for years but at least they got debated.

By contrast, this contest is turning into something unique: a shouting match about one single over-riding issue that offers no clear route to solving any of those big challenges punctuated by short bursts of silliness of which Theresa May’s chip-eating technique represented a new low.

The election risks becoming a huge missed opportunity. For the first time in over a decade, one party is going into this election certain to win and highly likely to secure a big majority. That should be liberating.

May can make it clear that solving our deepening social care crisis, fixing the housing market and securing growth that benefits all parts of the country comes with real costs. Some of that cost we may have to bear as a whole population, some of it may have to be borne by those doing well out of the current dysfunction. But, most importantly, May must make it clear that just hoping that something will turn up to prevent the social care system disintegrating or to free young families from punishing housing costs is not a sustainable option.

On current form the Conservative leader does not look like she is ready to seize the chance. Her rhetoric so far has matched the mood of the times: Twitter-friendly, Brexit-laden soundbites appealing to gut-feeling and popular preconceptions. The launch of the Tory manifesto is a chance to change the tone. May seemed to suggest that her manifesto would not “duck the issue” on social care. It is a principle that would be well applied across all of the big policy choices that have indeed been ducked for decades.

But even if the manifesto does include the necessary boldness, the issues can’t be allowed to sit quietly on the page drowned out by yet more Brexit noise. Telling everyone they voted for homes on green belt, a social care fund paid for by tax or a costly expansion of economic infrastructure outside London will never be easy. Telling them they voted for those things when they might not even have been aware they were on the ballot paper will be doubly difficult. It will heighten the chance of a backlash.

May must use her dominant personal stature and likely strong majority in Parliament not just to secure a decent Brexit deal but also to finally make the tough policy choices that have faced the country for years. She could use her significant mandate to be the great domestic reformer she so clearly wishes to be rather than just a glorified negotiator. That, however, will require speaking truth to the people. Even though the conversation may not always be comfortable, it needs to start now and not after the votes have been counted.

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