The issues the sector faces, and the pressures on local government are well known. Demand for services is rising from all age groups, including unpaid carers, while councils struggle to sustain care markets with diminished budgets.
When it arrives, the Government’s Social Care Green Paper promises to offer a range of solutions to these complex issues. While it is unlikely to be a panacea, what it can do is offer a clear course of action to ensure social care has a sustainable future.
Over the past 12 months, the Healthwatch Network heard from more than 9,000 people and 5,000 unpaid carers from across the country, about their experiences of – and expectations for – social care.
The overarching theme we heard about was that people simply do not understand, or see any incentive to prepare for, the care they may need in later life.
Only one in 20 people report that they are ‘fully prepared’ for their future care needs. The likelihood of taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to care was more prevalent among older age groups.
When people do start to think about planning their social care, they simply don’t know where to start.
This means that people often wait until they hit a crisis point. Important decisions about long-term care are often taken under extreme duress.
Often people are not aware that it is their council, and not their GP, who acts as the social care gatekeeper. NHS Digital found that 5,000 people approach their council for support every day, and that half are turned away.
Our research shows that the remainder wait an average of two months to get the support they need.
This is not a sustainable model, and it is one that the Green Paper must seek to remedy if it is to succeed.
Using our research, we developed five key tests that you can use to assess the extent to which the Green Paper will work for your constituents.
- Is it understandable by the public and people who work in social care? “I don’t think there is one place or person that can sort all this out…”
- Will it support people to plan and make decisions about their care? “What are we meant to be planning for? I could get hit by a bus tomorrow…”
- Does it facilitate a wide range of choice in social care? Do we have plans for a stable and varied provider market? “Having social care in the home ranges depending on age, background, mental and physical capabilities. It’s very difficult to have a one size fits all.”
- Are the funding, charging and access thresholds fair, affordable and transparent? “There was going to be a contribution cap wasn’t there?”
- Will it support families and carers? “How is the average carer supposed to find out about a carer’s assessment?”
Local government has a key role to play in ensuring that this change is realised. However, it cannot be achieved without direction, adequate resourcing and meaningful public engagement.
Working with local Healthwatch, councils can take a lead role in achieving the broad reform the public need to see from social care. There is no quick fix, though we hope the Government’s Green Paper is the first step.