THE BLOG

Will Today's Radical Overhaul of Social Care Make Life Better for Disabled People?

01/04/2015 14:13 BST | Updated 31/05/2015 10:59 BST

My Scope colleague Rosemary asked the prime minister a question last week, at the Party Leaders' debates.

She was more polite than Paxman. But she didn't let him off the hook.

She asked him what he would do to give disabled people the chance to live more independently.

David Cameron responded by talking about the importance of supporting more disabled people into work.

In a cheeky follow-up question, Rosemary then stressed that although more and more people need it, fewer and fewer people are actually getting social care - and that is critical.

Why social care matters

Social care is the support people receive from councils to get up, get dressed and get out of the house, go to work, meet friends and family, or go to the shops.

One in three people in England rely on, or have a close family member who relies on, social care.

Disabled people tell us that social care is hugely important to them for going to work, job seeking and being able to study.

The reality is that if you are unable to do the basics, such as getting yourself dressed in the morning, then finding a job or progressing in your career becomes very difficult.

Social care in crisis

But, as the NHS Confederation recently said, the social care system is on its knees.

Today, sweeping changes to the care system - the biggest for more than 50 years - come into force. I welcome many of the reforms.

However, the new Care Act can only go so far. Because three big issues sit behind it.

The first is that, currently, not everyone who needs care gets it.

Social Services Directors estimate that in the last four years, £3.5bn has been taken out of the care system.

Research by the London School of Economics for the Care and Support Alliance estimates that 500,000 older and disabled people who would have got social care in 2009 no longer do, because rationing has squeezed them out of the system.

We need to integrate health and care

Secondly, we need to get the health and care systems to work more closely together.

We don't neatly divide our lives up in to health and social care. We just want good public services when we need them.

Yet disabled people tell us that they find the health and social care system fragmented, adversarial and exhausting to navigate.

A more joined-up health and social care system could make a big difference to disabled people's lives. We recently published a report on this.

Aspirations for disabled people

Thirdly, we need to raise our expectations of the kind of care disabled people should expect in 2015.

Currently half of disabled people (55%) who use social care say that it never supports their independence.

For example, we recently published as part of Scope's 100 Stories campaign, the story of a young man called Ben, who is a wheelchair user, has been fighting for many years to be able to live independently, but the system keeps getting in his way.

The new Care Act should move us away from what people can't do, to a greater focus on supporting disabled people to live as independently as possible.

We all have a role to play

Organisations that provide care, such as Scope, also have a role to play.

Too often we fall short of the high expectations of disabled people and their families, and ignore exciting opportunities for what is possible from care in 2015.

That's why Scope is closing or changing 11 of our care homes.

They were opened in the 1970s, and in many cases are old buildings,not fully accessible and based in isolated locations.

Large old-fashioned care homes require residents to live as a group and follow a similar routine - so it's hard for people to make individual choices about their day-to-day lives.

We've faced a lot of criticism for these proposals and we know that change is very unsettling for everyone involved.

But we want to raise expectations when it comes to disability and we want our work on the ground to reflect that.

Will the next Government deliver?

The new Care Act has the potential to give us a social care system we can be truly proud of.

It introduces a single, modern law that replaces a jumble of overlapping policies, regulations and decrees.

It gives people the right to have 'personal budgets', so that people who use social care will get control of the purse strings.

Under the new system, it should be easier for people to move home and take their care packages with them.

And advocates will be there for anyone who is unable to communicate effectively, or needs support during care assessments.

But for the Care Act to fulfil its potential, the Government has some tough decisions to make on funding and integration.

David Cameron and the other party leaders will be facing more questions on Thursday.

Millions of disabled and older people who need social care to get up, get out the house and play a part in their community, will be watching very closely.