At a time when the Daily Mail and others are eulogising over Donald Trump and extolling him as a revolutionary (though his “America First” slogan belonged to Charles Lindbergh over 70 years ago), I would argue the week’s true revolutionary is a contemporary of President Trump.
Step forward David Hodge CBE, leader of Surrey County Council.
It’s a bold and radical move – referenda have been held in other authorities – one example in Bedfordshire on General Election day in May 2015 saw a proposal for a Council Tax to fund extra Police soundly defeated.
It might be reasonable to argue that if people won’t vote for extra money for the Police they almost certainly won’t support a tax rise to fund extra care for the elderly and vulnerable adults.
According to the 2011 Census, the proportion of those aged over 65 in Surrey is 17.2% so that’s more than one sixth of the population.
The County Council has argued, not without some justification, that it has been badly treated in terms of central Government funding but will the residents voluntarily agree to plug the gap?
The referendum isn’t about funding – it goes much deeper and cuts to one of the central questions. How do we want to treat the elderly in society and how do they want to be treated? Many families have a strong sense of caring within the family for an elderly relative and that is laudable but caring for a relative with dementia or someone with extreme physical problems requires a level of care and dedication beyond most individuals and families.
With families having become smaller and more geographically disconnected, there are a growing number of elderly who have no one and for whom State care is the last resort. Ironically, the news this week that the Alzheimer’s Society in Surrey is closing all its centres is part of the problem. Without the funding to provide specialist transport, those in need can’t reach the centres and as they fall into disuse, they close.
A growing ageing population puts pressure on carers, care facilities and other medical facilities such as hospitals with beds “blocked” for long periods by geriatric cases. It is a huge problem which goes unreported and in my view challenges some basic assumptions about the kind of people we are, the kind of people we think we are and the notion of respecting for all.
A Government preoccupied with free trade deals and attracting foreign investors may not want to think too much about its own elderly but the problem isn’t going to go away.
Will Surrey’s electors support the County Council and what impact will the referendum have on the forthcoming County Council elections? Surrey is a Conservative stronghold with the Party winning 58 out of the 81 Council seats in 2013.
On a wider level, IF Surrey residents back the County Council; will it encourage other authorities to seek similar mandates? If the proposal falls, the crisis in Adult Social Care won’t go away and the County Council may have to make cuts in other areas.
Could the Opposition (led by a pensioner) make headway with A New Deal for Pensioners whereby some of the current “trinkets” such as winter fuel allowance and free TV licences are sacrificed for a more comprehensive and better funded Adult Social Care system?
As for the Referendum, no one yet knows when it will be held and there have been no polls. Early Twitter reaction was hostile but that can hardly be viewed as reliable.
Stodge is a long standing contributor to PB