Will social care feature in the 2015 Election?

With less than a year before we head to the polls, will social care get sufficient prominence in the run-up to the 2015 Election? Is this an important issue for care providers right now?

The rising debate about the financial and service pressures that are challenging the NHS means that the world of social care – certainly the NHS’s poor relation – is getting less time in the media spotlight (excepting some recent Panorama exposes.)  However, at the same time as the NHS is grabbing all the headlines, a recent report by The Kings Fund*, suggests that public debate about social care is quiet and clouded by poor understanding.

The need for that debate is clear; the questions are: how to promote it; how to encourage the public to engage; how to encourage the media to look at social care with as much passion as they do the NHS.

The Kings Fund report outlines two areas: firstly, the overwhelming need for a new health and social care settlement, and secondly, the crisis in social care that is already with us. We will will return to the first in a later article, but read on for our contribution to the debate on the second and our thoughts on what it means for care providers now.

Too little public money is spent on social care, particularly for conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease and end-of-life care. Social care has been underfunded for years as we know. As the coalition government has sought to reduce the deficit we have seen large reductions in publicly-funded social care. Figures show the decline has been sharpest for those receiving care in their own home, despite the fact that care at home is likely both to reduce the demand on the NHS and postpone entry to a residential or nursing home.  These reductions are “almost certainly without precedent in the history of adult social care” and social services departments, already struggling to balance the books, are facing further cuts in social services spending to come.

With care at home a melange of ‘care’ and domestic tasks, it is difficult to unpick the full amount; there is however no doubt that the industry extracts huge sums from privately funded care users.  The Kings Fund report also tells us that nearly half of those in care homes meet the entire cost from their own pocket.

So will the crisis in social care funding be an election issue?  It deserves to be and we should all contribute. However, the important issue for providers is to put their business hat on, look at the market and do their best to get a share of this massive and growing slug of cash coming into the industry.

Voters want simple choices, or at least politicians think they do. The topic of social care is a complicated one that cannot be easily-reduced to sound-bite-sized chunks. Purchasers however are quite capable of making choices. As a care provider, what can you do to show how good your care is? What can you do to provide information in a way that helps the purchaser make those choices? What changes can you make to the way you package and deliver service that will make you more attractive to people spending their own money? We at care2Improve believe that good management is critical, that good management depends on good information, so that is what we strive to provide you with.

As for debate before the election, despite what I would like to see, here’s why, I think the media will look elsewhere.

Unlike the NHS, our social care system does not enjoy the status of being the closest thing we have in this country to a national religion, as Nigel Lawson is supposed to have said about our devotion to our health system. Politicians steer well clear as a result of pronouncing on a complex and unloved system.  Any way forward for social care in my view has to address some major questions:

  • priorities
  • productivity – getting more from every pound and hour of work put in
  • higher taxes
  • new or higher charges
  • the level of care quality we want and can afford as a nation

In other words there are some hard choices to be made. I don’t expect politicians, asking for our vote this time round, to tell us these hard truths.