Social care is facing a unique opportunity to raise both its status and funding. That was the message from last week’s National Children and Adult Services Conference in Brighton.
Policy gurus and politicians of all persuasions slugged it out to win the hearts and minds of the delegates. “You can almost see social care coming up the political agenda,” David Behan, the director-general for social care at the Department of Health told Community Care.
His ground-breaking social care directorate is growing in size and influence, and care services minister Ivan Lewis launched a range of initiatives to raise the expertise and profile of social care.
So, with growing political belief in the long-term benefits of preventive social care measures, backed by the recent raft of green and white papers on more effective delivery, you could be forgiven for believing that the sector will get the funding it deserves in next year’s comprehensive spending review.
But don’t allocate any anticipated extra funding just yet. There are some credibility issues that still need to be overcome. To start with, DH officials claim the strong case they’re making to the Treasury for extra money is being compromised by the standard of book-keeping at local authority level.
Moreover, our political leaders are understandably looking for the profession to further develop the evidence base to its work, embrace new ways of working and deliver efficiencies. Finally, there’s the problem of the DH’s and Department for Education and Skills’ own Options for Excellence. It has turned out to be a damp squib, despite the advance hype.
What was needed was an Agenda for Change for social care, along the lines of the policy for raising the pay and status of NHS staff. Instead, while acknowledging the need for workforce stability, the DH offers no fresh thinking about achieving it. It is dismissive of better pay and rewards, and the success of its key priorities will be “dependent on the funding available”.
If we are hoping for the Treasury to give social care a good settlement next year, everyone has to play their part – not least the departments for health and education.