For too long, not enough value has been placed on care – both paid and unpaid. Social care has not had the sustained investment it needs; care workers and unpaid carers have not had enough recognition or support. This cannot continue. It is time for resource, recognition, and parity with the NHS.
Social care is vital for all of us, and at some point in our lives most of us will need it for ourselves or a loved one. Social care is so much more than just being cared for when needed – it helps us to exercise our rights, to live independently, and to take part and contribute to society. In the last few weeks the crucial role of social care and the challenges faced by the social care sector have become more visible to the public as attention has been given to what is happening in care homes, but there has been far less attention on similar challenges in domiciliary care.
So with social care in the spotlight as perhaps never before, what is needed now to secure social care for the future?
First, the way in which the debate on social care and the questions asked are framed is crucial. It must be about the importance and value of social care in and of itself – not primarily about what it can do for the NHS, important though that is. Social care is not just here to serve the NHS, and to help the NHS work effectively. It is an equal partner, and this needs to be understood and respected.
Second, it needs to have individual rights at the heart and a commitment in law and in practice to equality. There must be no ageism in approach or age discrimination in the way that resources are allocated. This will mean changes to the way things are currently done.
Third, those who work in social care need proper recognition, support and reward. It cannot be right that people doing the same or very similar jobs are paid at a different level, with different terms and conditions, depending on whether they are working in the NHS or social care, or for the public or other sectors.
Fourth, those providing unpaid care need much better support from social care services and the NHS. They also need much better financial support including an increase in Carer’s Allowance.
Fifth, there needs to be better integration between social care, the NHS, and housing. But this needs to start not at the system level, but with the individual and build up from there. What matters to older people? Are they seen as ‘experts by experience’ and fully involved in determining the care and support they may need? What is needed to support them to live their lives, to be full citizens with lives of purpose, opportunity and contribution?
But what about the cost of all this? With predictions of the country going into recession there will be many who will say that we can’t afford to fund social care.
The truth is, we can’t afford not to.