Outgoing Jewish Care CEO issues warning over future of welfare provision

In a farewell interview, Simon Morris says that in a difficult financial climate, the community must continue to support Jewish causes, stressing: 'Charity does begin at home.'


It is mid-afternoon on the penultimate day of Simon Morris’s 22 years with Jewish Care, the past 15 as chief executive.

He has hot-footed it from Redbridge, where visits to the charity’s Vi and John Rubens residential home and Dennis Centre for those with dementia completed a farewell tour of all Jewish Care properties. The reaction from staff, volunteers and service users at the various venues has been “overwhelming”, he says, moving him to tears on more than one occasion.

His office at Jewish Care’s Golders Green HQ bears evidence of some level of desk clearing, although a number of photos remain on display.

Time for such practicalities has been limited as there has been no diminution in his workload since last year’s announcement that he would be standing down, declaring: ‘It’s time for me to have a change.”

But the burden of responsibility for services which touch the lives of 10,000 people weekly has started to ease: “I have felt physically different over the past few weeks.”

He hands over to Daniel Carmel-Brown, who has come through the charity’s ranks, at a watershed moment. Its recent annual dinner raised more than £5 million, illustrating the regard in which it is held among the community’s movers and shakers.

It is committed to an ambitious £47 million redevelopment of its Stanmore site, to be known as Sandringham, an independent living project in Hendon and provision for the long-term needs of Redbridge Jewry.

But, like other charities, it operates in a precarious financial climate. “My professional career of 30 years has been characterised by cuts,” he notes.

Prior to Jewish Care, he worked for Buckingham County Council for three years, followed by eight years at Hounslow Council, ending up as commissioning manager for adult services, responsible for the areas of mental health, learning disabilities and drug and alcohol issues.

“One of the reasons I left local government 22 years ago was the frustration of people being asked to do more with less,” he recalls.

“How many reports and commissions have there been into a sustainable funding base for social care? None of them have been acted upon.

“At national level, society has not grappled with the challenge of an ageing community. There is an expectation that we have first-class public services but there is a mismatch between that desire and the costs.

“We need to be having a bigger conversation and politicians of all colours shy away from the big issue.”

He evinces sympathy for single home operators faced with managing “the bureaucracy we now live in. It’s not just the CQC [Care Quality Commission]. It’s the Information Commissioner, GDPR and the Fundraising Regulator.

“In every area of work we do, the regulations are increasing. We are in the fortunate position that we can invest in technology — and also the people behind it. It is increasingly hard for smaller organisations to manage that.”

As people live longer — the average age of Jewish Care residents is 89 — providers also have to deal with increasingly complex health needs.

The national figure for those with dementia in care homes is 80 per cent. Mr Morris believes the figure for Jewish Care properties is nearer 90 per cent.

“Twenty years ago, in one of our care homes there were six people out of 50 who needed help at meal time. Now there are only six who do not.

“We’ve still got homes built when care needs were very different that are not physically fit for care in the 21st century. There is much to do to improve the physical environment.”

An example of ongoing enhancements is a £500,000 upgrade to its Brighton property, Hyman Fine House, with the support of the Bloom Foundation. Around £6 million still needs to be found for the Stanmore development.

All this in a climate where for council-funded residents, there is a weekly shortfall of at least £400 per individual — and considerably more in some cases.

Jewish Care currently needs to raise £15 million from the community to meet its annual budget of around £50 million for its day-to-day operations.

“Social care is a bottomless pit,” he says. “We could run more support groups, we could have more carers in the care homes, more social workers, more care support workers. It’s all down to money.

“We’ve still got another year-and-a-half of the National Minimum Wage to deal with and the impact of Brexit in terms of recruiting staff. There is a nursing shortage nationally. And when you can earn more stacking shelves in Tesco than you can being a carer, that’s a challenge [for recruitment].”

Regarding financial support, Mr Morris points out that “the Jewish community is affluent, more affluent than it has ever been. If it wants to sustain the Jewish social care set up, that comes with responsibility.

“We are fortunate in Jewish Care that there are a number of people who are generous. Others could be more generous. Jewish Care’s ability to succeed will be based on Mrs Cohen giving us money. We are never going to be able to get Mrs Smith.

“Living in Britain, we Jews have a responsibility to support other organisations,” he adds. “But if we want to keep Jewish Care going, charity does begin at home.

“If the next generation wants to have a sustainable Jewish community — not just Jewish Care but Norwood, the CST, UJIA, the whole range — the only way it will happen is if we support it.

“I am more assimilated than my parents’ generation. I probably feel more British than they did. But if we don’t feel our Jewishness, I am not sure what will be around in three or four generations’ time.”

He highlights initiatives across the community to involve future donors. “Norwood has done a lot with Young Norwood. We’ve developed a young leadership programme and Young Jewish Care is flourishing.”

Interestingly, he finds it problematic engaging “the middle generation” where both partners work, are trying to raise a family and may have care responsibilities for older relatives.

Mr Morris is proud of the multicultural make-up of Jewish Care’s 1,300 employees. “We spend a lot of time at work and we wanted to create an organisation where people enjoy being at — a workplace where they could thrive.

“In a world where faith and religion can pay such a destructive part, we have an environment where people from 68 nationalities look after people from one faith.”

His appreciation of the workforce was enhanced by doing a day and night shift (several years apart) at Jewish Care services, “one of the most salutary experiences of my career.

“To be honest, I only managed half a shift at each, partly because of pressure of work but partly because it was physically exhausting and demanding on an emotional level.

“It’s an incredibly well-run organisation. I can count on one hand the number of times over the past 15 years that I’ve been rung in the middle of the night or on a Sunday morning. But that sense of being responsible for 1,300 people’s working lives [and those in the charity’s care] has sat with me 24/7.

“That sense of responsibility is something I’m looking forward to not having for a while.”

Having originally joined Jewish Care to develop its mental health services, he is pleased by its partnership with mental health charity Jami, “a different model of how the community can work together to maximise the money spent”. Does he see such partnerships, or indeed mergers, inevitable when cash-strapped charities are chasing many of the same donors?

“Everyone used to say why don’t Norwood and Jewish Care merge? I think that is less likely to happen now. It makes sense for organisations working in learning disability to come together. It makes sense for organisations working with older people to come together.

“I wouldn’t say older people and learning disability are now as compatible as they were 10 years ago.”

One difficulty is that “you very rarely get a merger of equals. In 2000, we took over Osha [the Otto Schiff Housing Association]. Some of the people connected to Osha felt it lost a bit of its identity — it was specifically set up to deal with refugees from Nazi Germany. That’s the downside.

“On a national level, the facility for a larger charity to absorb a smaller charity — allowing it to keep its identity but to take advantage of premises and be part of a larger organisation — is a model I would like to see happen.”

Have there been discussions with other charities? “There are always conversations. There is a realisation it needs to happen but we haven’t quite got past go.”

With care homes Donisthorpe (Leeds) and Stapely (Liverpool) dealing with the consequences of scathing CQC reports, could Mr Morris envision Jewish Care administering a northern home?

“The Fed in Manchester is very strong and has got a good infrastructure,” he points out. “Could I see the country being divided, the Fed taking the north and Jewish Care looking after the south? I could.”

It was preferable to have such conversations sooner rather than later “because to wait until organisations are in a really distressed state makes it much more difficult. All community leaders have a responsibility to make these discussions happen.”

He says he leaves Jewish Care in good hands, as Mr Carmel-Brown “has spent time in services and fundraising and so has a good all-round view of the challenges at every level”.

At 58, Mr Morris’s future career ambitions are underpinned by a desire to continue to make a difference, “doing something that improves things for people.

“There are lots of people talking to me and I’ll see where it goes.” He is minded to do more in the secular world. “But it would be hypocritical if I said I was going to abandon the community.”

He is eager to do some front-line voluntary work and have more time to devote to hobbies such as photography and walking. He also looks forward to taking up his season ticket in Tottenham’s new stadium.

Mr Morris lives in Finchley and is a member of the local Reform congregation.

His wife Lucille Balcombe is a nurse specialising in child and adolescent mental health. His two daughters work within the Jewish community.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive