Before we get too carried away with the addition of “social care” to Jeremy Hunt’s job title, it’s important to remind ourselves of two things.
First, the social care system has been in the grips of a deepening crisis since well before the start of his tenure.
Second, history shows that regardless of who is technically in charge, all parts of Whitehall and the broader sector must work together if we are to fix that crisis.
The fact that the system is in crisis is beyond all possible doubt. The number of adults receiving social care support decreased by at least a quarter between 2009/10 and 2013/14 according to official statistics, and it is likely that the trend has continued.
As I write this at least 1.2 million older people and disabled people do not receive the care they need, a 48% increase since 2010. In recent years the situation has gone from bad to worse. Research from the MS Society shows that a staggering one in three people living with MS currently aren’t getting the support they need with essential everyday activities like washing, dressing and eating, a significant increase since equivalent research in 2013.
The result of cross-Whitehall work to date has been several high-profile policy announcements, including the legal overhaul of the Care Act 2014 and the Better Care Fund aiming to improve integration, but no reversal in the ever-worsening situation for people with MS and others who receive social care.
Overall the contributions on social care during Hunt’s tenure have been a depressingly familiar continuation of the trend that has seen 10 Government consultations in 20 years, yet no decisive action from political parties of any stripe.
With that history, I’m not here to make grand pronouncements about what a simple change in job title will mean for the people I represent – we’ve all been burnt too many times.
However, I did want to give my view you what the change should mean. What would it look like if Jeremy Hunt was given unequivocal responsibility for fixing social care, and actually did?
I think we’d see the following:
· First and foremost, a deep and sustained investment in the social care system. There will be an estimated £2.5 billion gap in social care funding by 2019/20 and addressing this to get the sector off its knees is an unavoidable prerequisite for unlocking other solutions.
· With investment in social care, we’d see an easing of the winter crisis that has so tragically affected NHS patients up and down the country. Social care plays a well-recognised role in keeping people out of hospital and enabling them to be safely discharged, reducing costs for the NHS.
· More broadly, providing relatively low-level, inexpensive support would prevent more costly care needs developing further down the line. Research demonstrates that people suffering from loneliness are more likely to have a higher incidence of falls, early entry into residential or nursing care and use of accident and emergency services independent of chronic illness.
· Investment in social care would also bring economic and social returns. Adult social care sector is estimated to contribute £41.8 billion a year to the English economy, almost three times the amount local authorities spend on it. Investment would be an opportunity to create thousands more jobs in the care sector, which in turn would support disabled people to realise their working potential.
Unfortunately, we are also all too familiar with the corollary to these opportunities – the consequences of inaction. Our recent report on the care crisis set out the impact of social care on real people – how important it is when it works and how profoundly damaging poor quality or, (increasingly) non-existent care is to their lives.
Beyond job titles and Whitehall portfolios, a key test of this government will be how urgently they bring forward proposals for real change to fix the undeniable crisis engulfing social care. If they do not, not only will people receiving social care be harmed irrevocably but so will NHS patients – because they are often one and the same.
Over to you, Jeremy.