The Government launched its new draft Industrial Strategy this week and, at first sight, it might seem strange to suggest that social care should be part of it. Where does social care fit in a strategy that talks about aerospace, oil and gas, engineering, transport and the like? But both as an industry itself, and as a vital part of the nation's infrastructure, social care should be there.
Let's start with a look at the social care industry. It's not always referred to as an 'industry' but in terms of scale and contribution to the economy we should be thinking of it in this way.
Around 1.5 million people work in social care in England alone, and demand for care workers is increasing all the time as our population ages. The value of the UK care home market is estimated at £15.9 billion1 and Skills for Care calculated that the adult social care sector in England is worth £40.4 billion2 to the economy in direct, indirect and induced effects. This is a pretty big industry.
The industrial strategy sets out 10 pillars for making progress, all of which apply to social care. From investment in developing skills, to supporting businesses to start and grow, through to creating the right institutions to bring together sectors and places - all of this would benefit social care, and the skilled, innovative, and committed people in social care would have a lot to share with other industries. Perhaps of most importance is the contribution social care makes to the effective working of our economy and of our wider society, which with the right support can be even greater.
Three million people (one in nine of the workforce) are now combining working and caring, unpaid, for a loved one - whether an older parent or grandparent; a partner with a disability or illness; or a disabled child. For this combination of roles to be feasible, we need the right social care support. For example, if you're caring for your mum with dementia, you need to know that when you're at work, there are good quality, reliable home care services to support her. Without this, you struggle to stay focused at work (affecting productivity) and may find that you have to leave work altogether (a loss to your employer and to the economy). The costs of carers leaving employment is estimated at £1.3billion a year in benefit costs and loss of tax revenues3. Based on this analysis it is estimated that the additional contribution that could be made to the economy from carers being able to work is £5.3billion4. That's a pretty big contribution to our economy.
But we shouldn't view social care just in terms of its monetary value and contribution. It is also essential for the health and wellbeing of us all. And all of us will find ourselves at some point in our lives caring, unpaid, for someone, or needing that care ourselves. We have seen in the last few months how a shortage of social care services affects the ability of the NHS to function. Less visible is how the shortage of social care services affects individuals and families ability to function. We simply can't manage our lives without it - whether it's support for the young man with a learning disability to enable him to have an independent life; care for the 50 year old recovering from a stroke; support for the husband in his 80s caring for his wife with dementia; or support for the parents bringing up their child with a severe disability. And all of these people might well have been or be working in the more 'traditional' industries covered in the Government's industrial strategy.
Bringing social care into the remit of the industrial strategy, recognising it as part of the essential infrastructure to improve the productivity of our country; its contribution to the health and wellbeing of workers in all industries; and its importance as a growing sector of the economy which will need a combination of more skilled workers supported by appropriate technology, would be a bold step. Let's take it.
1. Laing Buisson, 'Care of Older People UK Market Report', 27th edition, September 201
2. Skills for Care, The state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England 2016
3. Pickard, Linda (2012) Helping carers to stay in employment would save the Exchequer over a billion pounds a year. British Politics and Policy at LSE (24 September 2012)
4. Age UK (2012) Care crisis wipes over £5.3 billion from the economy