Protecting social care for the future

‘We want to create a vision for the future of social care, which positions it as an essential part of the national infrastructure’
Professor Martin Green, Chief executive, Care England
By Professor Martin Green, Chief executive, Care England

If there is anything positive to draw from this dreadful pandemic, it is the professionalism of the adult social care workforce. The workforce, our sector’s biggest and best resource, has never had due understanding or thus recognition, but these last few months have demonstrated its dedication, commitment and resilience. 

While the workforce is resilient, it is only as resilient as the funding and support behind it, hence the need for adequate long-term support for the sector. No longer can social care be seen as the underdog, instead it needs to be seen as a vital part of an interdependent system with the NHS.

As the largest representative body for independent providers of adult social care, Care England is working to ensure there is the funding available to stabilise the current system.  We want to create a vision for the future of social care, which positions it as an essential part of the national infrastructure.

There have been many false starts for social care, including numerous consultations, revisions and inquiries, but if reforms are not made now, the sector will teeter on the brink of collapse. Care homes are an essential part of the continuum of care and thus critical to the nation’s vision where social care is seen as a resource, not a burden. And let’s not forget that it rivals the NHS as the biggest employer in the country.

Measuring success in outcomes is key

Part of this vision for social care is reclaiming the term “integration”. Real integration is not about the structures of organisations, but it is about the outcomes; outcomes for the people the system serves. The experience of the service user and outcomes are paramount as are the efficient and effective use of resources. What is required now is a different culture, one where success is measured in outcomes.

We need to see care staff treated as the true professionals they are. The adult social care workforce needs to be seen for what it is: an exciting, challenging, professional career; and we have to ensure staff are remunerated accordingly.

The government must start developing a proper career pathway for social care, with clear skills and competency frameworks and an entrenched career escalator. This recognition must also translate into the pay and conditions of care staff on a par with the NHS and other public services.

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the fault lines in the system and for all the rhetoric about health and social care, social care has clearly been an afterthought in much of the planning and development that went on before this pandemic. This must not be allowed to continue and in the future we must see social care and the NHS as interdependent systems requiring the same level of priority from the government and the same level of recognition from society.

Safeguarding social care is crucial

The pandemic has underlined the value of adult social care to England’s economy, communities and society. It is vital that we safeguard this national asset in the coming weeks, months and years ahead. A failure to do so will not only damage the UK’s interests in the short term, but also, impinge upon its ability to respond to longer term demographic change. Additional funding, support and attention for the sector are all part of this effort. Whilst the NHS’s ability to operate is contingent upon the strength of the adult social care system. Thus, adequate investment in the NHS must be in tandem with sufficient support for the adult social care sector.

These are tough objectives, but Care England will fight tenaciously to reposition social care so it is seen by government as an essential part of our system and recognised by the general public for the amazing way it supports people and transforms lives.