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Root And Branch Reform Of Social Care Needed

Nothing less than a root and branch reform of English social care is now needed. Its funding and principles must be radically reviewed. Only this will end its permanent state of crisis. Nothing else will make anything like a reasonable life possible for the millions of older and disabled people and family carers now suffering-  sometimes in extreme - from its gross failure and ever declining reach. Some commentators still wait hopefully for the promised government green paper that never comes, but given this administration is still committed to its same old neoliberal goals, it is difficult to see why. What’s needed is a fresh start.

According to the NHS’s own figures, since 2009 the number of people receiving adult social care in England has fallen, despite significantly growing levels of need. In 2009 1.8 million people received some adult care services in a 12 months period. Today the figure is estimated just over 1 million, a cut of 44%. People are also receiving less support and in the many cases where they have to pay, paying more. This year Age UK estimated that 1.2 million people don’t receive the care support they need with essential living activities.

Most people assume that social care is provided on the same basis as the NHS, paid for out of general taxation and free at the point of delivery. In fact the absolute opposite is the case. It is a relic of the old much hated Victorian Poor law. It is both means and needs tested. This coupled with years of arbitrary welfare benefits cuts in the name of ‘austerity’ and combatting ‘fraud’, means that the lives of many older and disabled people have never been so insecure, impoverished or undermined since the creation of the post war welfare state.

So that’s the first thing that must change. It’s not just that social care needs to be ‘integrated’ with the NHS – a favourite word of current policymakers - in principle and practice – in values and funding base as a universalist service, free for those who need it. It also need to be based on the philosophy of independent living developed by the disabled people’s movement. This means that instead of framing service users in deficit terms – what they can’t do – it is rebuilt on the fundamental principle of making it possible for them to live their lives on as equal terms as non-disabled people, non-service users. And this demands similarly based income maintenance, housing, education, employment, planning, transport and other policies.

We are not going to see this from right wing governments committed to ‘the small state’, the individualising values of the market, regressive taxation and cutting state spend on supporting people. But this must be the basis for any political party committed for the future to securing the rights and needs of all its citizens (as well as challenging hostility and discrimination against non-citizens). 

To achieve this, advocates of truly radical reform of social care, are calling for an ‘independent living service’, which has the financial backing and overview of the treasury and which brings together the roles and responsibilities of all departments to make possible equal lives for the rapidly growing minority of disabled and older people who can expect to need support. Thus, like the NHS it would be harmonised from the centre, to avoid the problems of the present post-code lottery arrangements linked with the current locally led system.

The present loss and impoverishment of many user led organisations; that is to say those directly controlled by disabled people and other service users, needs urgently to be reversed and such a national network supported to be a key provider of support and services on a human and local scale for service users, offering a key source of accessible high quality training and employment to service users for whom employment is a positive and realistic choice.

Finally in an aged of AI – artificial intelligence – social care needs to be reconceived as a major generator of positive relationship-based employment and a net social and economic contributor that can be part of a new sustainable economics and social policy. Here we can see the vanguard of a new planet friendly approach to social policy, that offers the promise of high quality support, high quality employment and truly participatory policy and practice.  

Professor Peter Beresford is author of All our Welfare: Towards Participatory Social Policy, Policy Press. He is emeritus professor of social policy at Brunel University London, professor of citizen participation at Essex University and co-chair of Shaping Our Lives

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