The Big Picture: Chance for radical change

In its recent comprehensive spending review (CSR), the government promised a green paper about social care and disabled adults and, especially, older people. The General Social Care Council has just published a report about the role of social work. Put the two together and what do we get?

There is a real opportunity to create fairer arrangements for funding the assistance required by disabled people. This would provide them with more choice and control, enable them to live independently and free-up social workers to work alongside them.

Jones quote p6 - 22 November issueCurrently we have a postcode lottery where the state- funded social care assistance someone receives is based on where they live. Councils have differing amounts in their cash-limited budgets for social care, operate different eligibility criteria and have varied charging policies. Move over a council boundary and new community care and financial assessments kick in, creating uncertainty for disabled people.

For social workers, much of their time is taken up trying to reduce the already heavily rationed assistance people receive. The poor CSR settlement for councils means even more cuts in care in the future.

A way forward would be to have disabled people’s requirements funded through the national non-cash limited social security system by enhancing benefit rates and extending the types of benefit to include assistance and care costs. And if the money is not enough it would be more transparent and a national issue rather than a hidden local one.

This would get rid of the current postcode inequalities, it would move to a rights-based rather than cash-limited discretionary system, and it would allow social workers to stand beside disabled people as a resource rather than as financial restrictors, able to tell it like it is rather than maintaining how it is. It would also allow social workers to be available for both self-funders and those who receive state funding.

A revitalised role for social workers, the rolling out of a system which is equitable across the country and giving disabled people the cash to drive choice would create a new power relationship. It would turn disabled people into active citizens rather than social care plaintiffs.

Ray Jones was social services director at Wiltshire from 1992-2006 and a former chair of the British Association of Social Workers

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