January 3, 2018   2 mins

There are subjects we ignore because they are simply too big…

Or because we don’t know anything about them…

And then there are subjects which we can’t bear to consider. Issues which trigger such a profound mix of emotions that we would rather avert our eyes and pretend it will go away.

So it is with social care.

The public policy issue that affects every single household in Britain.

The issue that terrifies politicians.

The issue that is imperilling the survival of the National Health Service.

And yet the issue that has consistently been overlooked.

There are three reasons we refuse to address this question. And they are all to do with emotion.

  • First we fear our own vulnerability. We recoil at the thought that we will need care ourselves – we insure against the unlikely event of a domestic burglary and yet resist any opportunity to provide for the probability that we will one day need help to get dressed. We know that there are more people with profound disabilities living among us, but we would rather pretend it’s not happening.
  • Second we discount the sheer work of caring. Largely done by women, largely behind closed doors, largely in private – it’s our dirty little secret that we don’t want to consider.
  • Third we treasure our own asset wealth to the point that we refuse any suggestion that we should pay for our own care in any shape or form, as the Prime Minister discovered to her cost.

For these reasons we hide from the reality that one in three of us will survive cancer and will need care. That many of our children will grow to adulthood with multiple and complex needs. That mental illness will affect us all, and that we will live longer and largely healthier lives. But rather than make the adjustments we need to make, both public and private, we prefer to hide behind the sofa like children watching a particularly scary episode of Doctor Who, accepting the lying adult assurance that this will never happened to us.

We cannot continue to avoid facing these consequences of our economic, medical and social progress. We need to acknowledge our fragility, honour the work of care, and recognise that our current prosperity is part of the solution to the looming crisis of social care. But first we need to make the emotional adjustment to see what is in full view if only we choose to see.

Julia Unwin was Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust (JRHT) from 2007 to 2016