A letter to the Prime Minister from the chairs for three select committees calls for cross party talks and consensus on a long term settlement for social care. Having given evidence to the recent Communities and Local Government Committee on this issue, I ‘m heartened to see the three committees coming together to call for positive change.
We have been here before of course. There have been cross party talks and the beginnings of consensus, but they have either gone nowhere or unravelled as pre-election party politics put point-scoring ahead of doing the right thing by older and disabled people. The Dilnot reforms gained cross-party support but were an early victim of austerity.
The temptation will be to aim for big, simple, government-sized announcements, like the complete integration of heath and social care. These will not solve the issue, and could even do more harm than good if, for instance, the whole system is integrated around the power bases of the big local hospitals, at a time when we need desperately to shift power and resources into the community. There is clearly a need for a big injection of funding to avoid widespread catastrophe and whole care industries such as home care collapsing completely. But again, short term funding is necessary but not sufficient, if it is spent only on the things we spend it on now.
So by all means let this lead to more money and more joined up health and care systems, but the more important and much trickier challenge is to use this moment not simply to shore up today’s approaches, but to invest in scaling up the most promising community and family based initiatives. The goal should not be integrated bureaucracies but unified goals: a health and wellbeing system which aims to create and sustain wellbeing, which connects people and supports family carers, which values resilience. It has never been more appropriate to take some risks. We have of course been calling for ambitious investment in initiatives like Shared Lives and Homeshare which have demonstrated they work. But we also need to be prepared to scale down bureaucracies and organisations whose unresponsiveness demonstrates they are too big, through accelerating approaches like personal budgets, personal health budgets and the involvement of voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations in designing and delivering interventions in people’s lives which are focused on health, not just illness and which are social as well as genuinely caring.