Almost one million people are currently living with dementia. Every three minutes, someone develops the condition; it affects not only the individual but family and friends too. Unless we find a prevention or cure for the disease that causes dementia, the number of people in the UK living with the condition is likely to reach two million by 2050.
The needs of people with dementia must move to the top of the agenda as we emerge from COVID-19. That starts with research, because ultimately our goal must be to prevent, treat and ultimately cure this often heart-breaking condition.
The Government was elected on a pledge to double research funding into dementia by the end of the decade, yet no details have been outlined on how and when this will be delivered. In fact, dementia research funding has fallen over recent years.
At a debate on this issue, on 10 February, the Government was pressed on its promise on dementia research funding again, however, the Minister did not provide any details on how it would keep this promise. He simply reiterated that Ministers are ‘working across government’ to achieve it.
I am pleased that the Opposition has committed to double current spending on dementia research to over £160 million a year to drive up efforts to find a cure. This forms part of a wider ambition to not only protect but enhance the UK science base and achieve 3% of GDP spent on science and research across the economy.
The second issue Ministers need to grasp is transforming dementia care. For too long, social care has lacked the priority and funding it deserves. A decade of cuts to local government has resulted in £8 billion being lost from adult social care budgets, and too many people have been left to cope without the support they need.
In my view, the Government’s decision to increase taxes to pay for reforms to the sector will do nothing to improve the quality or provision of care; there will be no new money for social care for at least three years and Ministers have refused to guarantee that people will not have to sell their homes to pay for care.
There was little for social care in the Autumn Budget and Spending Review, and no detailed plan to address chronic workforce shortages. Instead, the Government is asking local authorities to consider raising council taxes again this year to plug immediate gaps in funding. The Alzheimer’s Society has warned that this will lead to further rationing of care.
I support a long-term plan of investment and reform that will empower care users by expanding the options between care at home and residential care. We also need a plan that sets out a new deal for frontline care workers to transform pay, training and working conditions.
I can assure you that my Opposition colleagues and I will continue to press the Government to keep its promise to double research funding into dementia by the end of the decade, and to properly fund our social care system.
Indeed, I have written to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, ahead of the Spring Statement and raised the issue of dementia funding with him. I have posted a copy of this letter below for you to see.