There were reports of frantic negotiations within government and last-minute drafting and re-drafting, leading up to the publication of this weeks plan for social care reform. These can’t have been true because as we all know, the plan was already clear and prepared two years ago. Now we have it, some things are clear:
- It is the first government investment plan for social care for many years – that’s better than where we were
- Some people who currently pay unlimited amounts for social care will be protected from some (but not all) of those catastrophic costs (care costs are in, but room and board in care homes are not)
- Most of the money is actually for the NHS – for social care to get an increasing share of it as planned, would be the first time such a big transfer of resources from health to care has ever happened, making it possible but unlikely
The debate has been 90% about older people, whose care makes up 50% of social care, with disabled people’s care and support remaining fairly invisible. The debate has been about 100% about paying for that care, not about what needs to change about it. It’s possible that the biggest change which will come after this week is that the new system may bring enough people into the state-organised social care system to raise its status to a level where people demand as much of it as they demand of education and health: a second or third increase in social care funding may not be as hard, or take as many years, as the first.
There is a White Paper planned to set out what the plan really will be. So the real work starts now. The Dept for Health and Social Care has been given just enough money to start to envisage a different future for social care. Fortunately for the government, the UK social care sector, despite or perhaps because of the years of hardship it has faced, doesn’t just contain the crises, failures and scandals which make the news, it also contains some of the most exciting and effective innovation in the world. We don’t need to look abroad for new models – they come to us, regularly, to find out about ours. We just need to scale them. And the ‘we’ of course, cannot be experts, councils and provider organisations alone, it has to be the two groups of people who matter most:
- the people and families who make most use of social care services
- the groups and communities most poorly served by social care services
The starting question for improving social care is not ‘How do we improve social care?’ It’s ‘What does a good life look like, and how can we get there?’ This vision has already been set out by a group of people who use services called Social Care Future. If there had already been a clear plan, it would have been the wrong one, because the only way to get the right plan is for people who use services to be in the lead as we try to imagine the kinds of communities, organisations, support and systems which will build that vision.