Britain's social-care system has reached crisis point. The government has just announced plans for a 6% council tax hike to help cover the costs of an ageing population, and the increasing numbers of elderly, disabled and dementia patients managing without formal or informal care at home. Households could see bills rise by more than £150 over the next couple of years as a result of it. But is this enough?
Community services for seniors face a funding gap of up to £2.6 billion by 2020, with the number of elderly Britons requiring care predicted to double to eight million by 2030. A rise in council tax does not necessarily address the immense pressures on an overstretched system. Frazzled staff are woefully underpaid; care is spread too thinly. Throwing money at a flawed sector won't solve the deep-rooted dysfunction at its core. Instead, we must look beyond budget alone and adopt a triple-pronged approach to allow seniors to continue to live independently and safely at home wherever possible.
First, seniors deserve a seamless system, where social care and healthcare go hand in hand. For too long - since, in fact, the NHS was founded in 1948 - the two have been seen as separate, medical treatment somehow standing apart from daily care in nursing homes, with little dialogue between the two. For care to be effective, and to make the most of every penny in the taxpayer pound, they have to be integrated. In April 2016, Greater Manchester became the first geography in England to take control of its own health and social care budget of more than £6bn, which entails merging the two sectors. This is a positive step forward for the system, and one that must be fanned out across the UK, where appropriate.
Modernisation, in the form of technology, is a vital tool in achieving smooth integration of health and social care. Indeed, tech has the power to completely transform the care we provide, making it more reliable, responsive and transparent - even enabling carers to receive better pay. At present, the social care sector is fragmented and overcrowded, with more than 8,000 companies offering services of wildly varying quality. However, with the advent of technology-enabled services the space is rapidly changing. At Cera for example, we provide an on-demand home-care platform, accessible from a mobile phone, allowing individuals, families, councils or NHS facilities to request care when and where it's needed, 24/7. Cera can get a carer to a patient's home or hospital bed within four hours of an enquiry in London. It allows relatives to check on their loved ones at a moment's notice, and even gives elderly people the technology they need to control home appliances such as lights and thermostats, while simplifying their daily routines. Its digital records allows carers to document services given, while giving those involved in a seniors' care the information they need at a touch of a button. Soon, GPs will be able to tap into to this information, further streamlining the link between social care and healthcare.
But for social care to be revolutionised, it's crucial that its funding is sustainable and designed with a long-term view. At present, up to half of the UK's social-care services are self-funded, something many may not be planning for - and this figure is only going to keep rising. Recently, a number of proposals have been mooted, from amending the triple-lock on pensions to release funding, to merging pots for benefits, entitlements, pensions and care. Alternatives include a social-care-focused insurance or a movement towards individuals starting to save for care as young adults. Whichever route we take, it's clear that a more comprehensive and long-term solution to support seniors is key; there's little point in offering free public transport to seniors who are unable to leave their homes because they aren't receiving home care.
There's no doubt that the way social care is currently designed, funded and delivered must be reinvented. A council-tax rise to boost funds is a helpful first step, but integration and modernisation are essential if the sector is to survive.