There is a growing consensus that the care system is in crisis. Underfunded and misunderstood – social care in the UK has become a distress service, meeting only the needs of the poorest and most debilitated.
The problem is most acute when it comes to caring for older people. An ever-widening care gap exists between those who need care and are entitled to receive it, and those who actually receive state support.
Half of those who qualify for help are being turned away, as dwindling budgets means councils cannot afford to assist them: 1.6 million disabled people over the age of 65 go without any help from their local authorities every single day.
2008 offers a unique opportunity to strike a new deal for social care. The much anticipated green paper will focus on the funding of adult social care, and the forthcoming joint Community Care/Right care Right deal conference on the paper seeks new solutions to the challenges we face.
Getting this right means improving the quality of care for thousands of people now and in the future. The UK has an ageing population, and our aspirations for later life are increasing. The next 30 years will see a doubling in the number of people aged over 75. Now, more than ever before, we must lay down the foundations for a social care system that will stand the test of time and enable as many people as possible to live the life they choose.
There is broad agreement that before we can move to a new system we must refresh our vision. Bringing together leaders in the field, practitioners on the ground and care users themselves, the conference will seek to build up a picture of how best to achieve a lasting revolution in social care.
Recognising that discharging social services is not an end in itself, but a means to an end, we will look at how best to provide support that can blend into people’s lives, meeting their needs without taking over their lives.
As it stands, older people, their families and carers are baffled by the system and confused about what they are entitled to. This conference will seek to identify the changes needed to deliver a simpler, fairer and more transparent care system that is fit for the future.
The Right care Right deal campaign want a social care system that enables people to assess their own needs and choose their own support. Bringing together three of the largest charities working in the field – Counsel & Care, Help the Aged and Carers UK – the campaign has been launched to garner support and raise awareness of the crucial need for a radical new system of social care in England, with the needs and wishes of the individual at the very heart.
We believe there is an urgent need to put more money into social care, and that the system must become more personalised and have a greater focus on preventative services. There must also be a new emphasis on supporting families and carers as integral.
We want to see far greater use of self assessment and individual budgets, proper recognition of the vital role played by carers and a move towards a partnership model of funding, along the lines outlined by the Wanless review.
Universal access to information, advice and advocacy will be crucial to the success of any new system. Individuals should be able to tap into these kinds of services according to their needs, in order that those who face the greatest challenges are supported the most.
England is stuck in a rut on social care. In trying to deliver better care to individuals whose needs are pressing, we have forgotten that social care is there to deliver a better life for all who need it – expanding their opportunities, not just managing their needs. We must be brave enough to put every aspect of our current social care system – from funding and commissioning to assessment and provision – under the microscope. But we need to ensure that the decisions we take reflect the wealth of experience and knowledge out there.
For too long social care has been the poor relation of public services, pushed aside in favour of more readily understood and politically popular debates around health and education. But the debate is now moving out of the shadows, with the government indicating that it is an urgent political priority for the next year, and now is the time for us all to play a part.
Paul Cann, is director of policy and international affairs, Help the Aged