The social care system urgently needs reform to ensure its sustainability for the future. “Thank you for that information, Miss Marple”, I hear you cry. Well, it is a blindingly obvious statement. Care providers know it, local authorities know it and the government knows it.
The recent two-part BBC Panorama documentary, Crisis in Care, highlighted the desperate situation councils, carers and families are finding themselves in due to funding cuts, staff shortages and an ageing population. It brought home the realities of social care and the problems that go with it – many of them heartbreaking.
This lead to a public call on social media for the government to “do something”. “The government should be ashamed”, several people said.
But the government is fully aware of the problems facing adult social care. Analysis by the NHS Confederation found that three quarters of MPs, including most Conservatives (58%) believe there is a crisis in care in England, with three out of five believing people in their constituencies are suffering because of social care cuts.
So if most of us are in agreement that there is a crisis in care, why hasn’t the problem been solved?
One reason could be that social care reform is too big a task for politicians to face. Speaking at the LaingBuisson Social Care Conference earlier this year, former health secretary Stephen Dorrell said politicians must recognise that there is a requirement to re-embed the NHS in the full range of public services, including social care and housing, but in order to do that, they must address the “profoundly difficult question” of how we pay for those joined-up services, and this question has “defeated every government for the last 25 years”.
Given that most MPs are aware of the situation, one could argue that they are simply burying their heads in the sand. The screening of the BBC Panorama films in the House of Commons on May 12 was attended by just four MPs.
Another argument could be that there is no political will to fix the social care system. Martin Jones, the CEO of Home Instead said in an interview with Home Care Insight that social care is used as a “political football” because governments don’t look 10 years into the future, they look four years ahead because “they are focused on re-election”.
Both Jones and Yvonne Hignell, the managing director of Bluebird Care, agree that it will take someone who is mission-driven, like Aneurin Bevan, who started the NHS, to do something not just for the here and now, but for the future of the country from a legacy point of view.
There is also the problem that social care is not seen as a vote winner, only a risk, suggesting there is no appetite for the significant changes needed.
The way people view social care is by-the-hour, unskilled, manual work predominantly carried out by women, according to Hignell.
“We don’t see it as a system and how that fits into the rest of what goes on in the UK, and until that mind shift happens, it’s very difficult to move things forward,” she said.
So perhaps the social care sector as a whole needs to educate the public, through more programmes like Panorama, on how integral social care is to our future wellbeing and the overall success of the economy, in order for it to be turned into a vote winner?
I would argue that an official register for professional care workers in England would enhance the perception of a paid care role among the general public, thus encouraging more people to see the value in social care.
Matt Hancock recently pledged a £3.5 billion cash injection to prop up the social care system as he kick-started his campaign to become the UK’s next prime minister.
But now he’s out of the race, it must be down to us, as social care organisations, to come together as allies and coordinate a response for the challenges we face, and not wait for answers from the government that are likely to come too late.
Caption: Home Care Insight editor Sarah Clarke.