An ageing population requires proper investment in social care
Millions of people work in and draw upon the adult social care system, which exists to support everyone who uses it to live the life they want to lead, no matter their age, ability or health condition.
Rising costs and increasing demand meant social care services were facing an uncertain future even before the shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, which exposed and exacerbated some fundamental weaknesses in how we continue to pay for and deliver them.
In particular, an ageing population places greater demands on councils, not just on those who provide adult social care but on supporting services such as the NHS and housing. While people are living longer and this is to be celebrated, it is sometimes with one or more long term conditions, which bring their own challenges along with greater frailty with advancing age.
The government’s long-awaited plan on social care, published in September, contained some potential promise on how care is paid for and the financial contributions people themselves make, including on the care cost cap. However, it left open many more questions which need answering, including how it will improve access to or quality of social care services, or provide an uplift on care worker pay.
The recent three-year Spending Review was also a missed opportunity to provide additional funding to meet these existing pressures, while concerns remained that the money allocated to social care from the new Health and Social Care Levy will not be enough to pay for all the government’s promised reforms.
The much-anticipated white paper on adult social care reform, published this month, which followed the government’s plan sets out a positive vision and has rightly been co-produced with and alongside people who draw on care and support. It was encouraging to see the Care Act established as the foundation upon which these reforms will be built, particularly the emphasis on housing, greater recognition of the workforce and skills, and prevention – action on all of which will improve the quality and experience of people who draw on social care.
Investment in social care is an investment in people, in all of us
It is nevertheless important we balance the aspirations and expectations set out in this paper against the wider reality of the funding backdrop against which councils and care providers are operating, which is insufficient to meet current and rising demand.
While councils share the government’s ambition and want nothing more than to deliver it, they will need extra funding from a substantially bigger share of the new Health and Social Care Levy for that to happen.
Councils are likely to struggle to meet their statutory duties under the Care Act and the cost of introducing the new reforms will leave little or nothing to pay for other long-standing underfunded priorities.
Addressing unmet and under-met need, tackling rising pressures, retaining hard working care staff – in part through increasing care worker pay – and investing more in prevention are all areas which need investment now if we are to significantly bolster core services. This is the essential platform which is needed to fully realise the long-term positive vision set out in the white paper.
Unless these can be urgently addressed as an immediate priority, any long-term proposals for social care – including those in the white paper backed by funding to kick-start change and innovation – will be set up to fail because core services themselves will not be available nor sustainable. Without such investment, public expectations will be unfairly raised.
Investment in social care is an investment in people, in all of us. The government has been ambitious with its vision and now needs to match this ambition with the necessary and upfront funding to turn it into reality.
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