“A week from now it will be all over bar the shouting and Theresa May will finally know if her decision to hold a snap General Election was a shrewd political manoeuvre or a disastrously ill-judged gamble.”
That was the opening of our Acorn blog from Friday June 2nd, six days before the General Election. Now, with the results in, we all know that the outcome for Mrs May was definitely the latter – a “disastrously ill-judged gamble”.
Our June 2nd blog made the case that, by over-stressing Brexit, the election campaign ignored the issues that matter most to older voters. Issues like social care at breaking point; people reduced to poverty in old age and forced to cash in their assets to survive; the rise in dementia as people live longer; and desperately needed measures to tackle loneliness and social isolation for older people.
One of Theresa May’s biggest campaign gaffes was over social care, with the manifesto announcement that, for the first time, the value of people’s homes would be included when assessing how much they should pay towards their own care in old age. It was quickly dubbed a ‘dementia tax’, and forced a damaging U-turn by Mrs May, despite her denials.
There was more anger over Tory plans to water down the guarantee on future pension pay-outs, known as the “triple lock” on state pensions. It guarantees a minimum increase in the state pension each year, but the Tory manifesto wavered in its support for the triple lock. Winter fuel payments also came under threat, while other issues that matter to older people were simply glossed over, the Conservative campaign apparently built on Theresa May’s personality as leader at the expense of actual policies.
It led to accusations from within the party that it ignored the issues which matter to its core supporters, and paid the price at the polls. In the wake of the result, long-serving Conservative MP Nigel Evans (who held his Ribble Valley seat) lambasted his own party’s performance:
“In all the years that I’ve fought parliamentary elections, this was the worst Conservative manifesto that I’ve ever fought an election on,” he said. “We went into this campaign with a very clear lead and there was a seismic change when we embarked upon what I will call a full frontal assault on our core support, the elderly. We started talking about things that people have become disinterested in and we have to learn a lesson.”
By no means all older people are Conservative supporters, but they do traditionally make up a key component of the party’s core strength. And no political party can afford to neglect its core supporters, or even take them for granted.
As the results rolled in it became abundantly clear that Mrs May would not extend and strengthen her majority in the House of Commons, as was her confident intention. Instead she would lose it altogether and be hamstrung with the uncertainty and instability of a hung parliament. Her future as Prime Minister is uncertain, but one thing is clear – social care for older people must become top of the political agenda, for whichever party runs this country.
It is an inescapable fact that the UK’s population is getting older. One in six UK citizens is currently aged over 65, but over the next three decades it will rise to one in four. People are living longer, and for as long as they live they will have the vote. Any party which seeks support from that fast-growing section of the electorate will have to get serious about how this country treats its older citizens.
Massive investment is needed in hugely expanded and improved social care. That means enhanced care enabling people to continue living in their own homes, and providing affordable and high-quality alternatives, such as retirement communities where older people actually want to live. A major shift is also needed in the focus of the NHS towards meeting the medical needs of an ageing population, and again, this will require significant investment.
And older people should not expect to be bled dry of the assets and savings they have worked hard to accumulate. Having contributed to society throughout their working lives, they are entitled to expect support from society when they need it most.
The UK must become a country which looks after its older people, and does so with a commitment to high quality care accessible to all. Any political party which proves it can deliver on that can be assured of support from a major sector of the electorate, and one which is growing year on year.
Yes, more young people voted in this General Election, and that bodes well for the future of democracy. But older voters also made their feelings – and their dissatisfaction – clearly known at the ballot box. Politicians who ignore them do so at their peril.