What is Social Care and Why It Should Be An Important Election Issue?

Until last autumn, many people might not of even heard of the term ‘Social Care’. For those of us requiring social care or working in the social care field, it seems incredible that people have such little awareness of what social care means and its importance in society. 

Maybe that’s because it sounds rather cosy. A close friend of mine thought social care meant taking someone out for a cup of coffee or helping an older person do their food shopping. She was aghast when I said it was more about a weekly bed bath or having 15 minutes to get someone out of bed, dumped in their wheelchair and left to enjoy repeats of ‘Homes under the Hammer’ for the rest of the day. Perhaps a tad of an exaggeration but you get my point. 

Social care is an essential part of many Disabled People’s lives, however political parties of all colours often talk about it as though it’s a luxury. If the NHS suddenly had its budget cut by 30%, there would be a national outcry, however this is the level of cuts that most local authorities (who administer social care services) have had to face over the last few years. 

Last autumn, social care suddenly hit the headlines. MPs all ran around, in collective denial, despite the fact that this had been a time bomb waiting to go off for many years. In 2011, the Dilnot Commission report was just one of a series of publications highlighting the need to come up with a long term sustainable solution to funding social care. For many reasons, most of the ideas from Dilnot were kicked into the long grass, never to be seen again.

Six years later, politicians are suggesting yet another commission to look at pretty much the same subject and will probably come up with similar solutions. As a user of social care services, I want to see action not commissions.

Recently, I attended a Kings Fund event on the topic of social care. On the panel were MPs from Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. One of the striking things about the panel was how much consensus there was about needing to find solutions to the issue, however this cross party agreement doesn’t seem to last once they all get back to Whitehall. Party tribalism reigns again while Disabled People wait in vain hope that all the political parties will put aside the party politics and work together.

So we are left with the question – will social care become a major election issue? 

I think the answer is that it might do but probably only when it is linked to the NHS and getting older people out of hospital. Obviously this is an important issue. It is disgraceful that older people can’t be discharged from hospital because of delays in sorting out an appropriate social care package. Some political parties talk about the integration of social care and health care as being the answer but we must be wary of quick fixes. 

Whilst I’m sure health care and social care could work more closely together, it is important to remember that they are both managed by different authorities, they are governed by different pieces of legislation and health care is (mainly) free at point of delivery whilst social care is increasingly charged for, at least in part. My concern is the whole system would become completely medicalised so Disabled People would be seen as ‘patients’ even when they are living in their own home and any sense of the social model of disability would be lost forever.

So be wary of any political party in this election who thinks they can sort out the social care crisis in a single bullet point in their manifesto. Ask yourself which party is offering the most credible solution and will they be able to put it into practice? We won’t know the answer to that until the manifestos are published. My fear is that social care will become just another political football while what we probably need is a cross party solution. 


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