As the political parties fall over themselves to declare their devotion and commitment to the NHS, it is essential that social care is not forgotten. With the launch of general election manifestos this week, many were hoping to see the parties firmly committing to invest in a chronically underfunded social care system. But, sadly, no major party has made a commitment to invest in social care.
The care and support system has seen a £3.5billion reduction in its budget since 2010. The Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services have estimated that there will be a £4.3billion black hole in social care services by the end of the decade. Without this investment there will need to be eye-watering cuts to care provision, something that will have a significant impact on people affected by MS and their families. So why are we seeing this absence of commitment?
Could the lack of attention be a result of the Care Act? The Care Act, which came into force on 1 April following many years of development, will provide some much needed reform particularly around improving the personalisation of care and support, and putting in law more rights for people to plan and receive their care in the way that they want. Perhaps politicians think they have solved the problem. Job done.
However, the Care Act is not a silver bullet. It will achieve none of these things without sufficient funding. With neither Labour nor the Conservative Party manifestos pledging to invest anywhere near what is needed, it looks likely that the Act will fail to reach its potential over the course of the next Parliament.
We know that social care is an election issue. One in three people in England rely - or have a close family member who relies on - the care system. A YouGov survey of more than 4,500 people, commissioned by the Care and Support Alliance (CSA), of which the MS Society is a member, revealed that along with health services, support for older and disabled people is the biggest priority where the electorate would want to see the Government increase expenditure.
However, the same survey showed that 6 in 10 people are not confident they will receive sufficient care; that goes up to seven in 10 for over 60s.Two thirds of those aged 60 and over in England believe government should be doing more in this area and less in others.
We know that the NHS is a clear priority for many voters, but we also know that social care has a direct impact on the NHS. Nearly nine in 10 GPs believe reductions in social care have contributed to the pressures faced in their surgeries. While more than nine out of 10 do not believe there is a sufficient level of care provided to prevent patients presenting at A&E or for them to avoid delayed discharge from hospital.
Investing in social care makes economic sense; people with MS who are not receiving adequate care are far more likely to end up in hospital - which is far more costly - with preventable issues like bladder infections.
Social care is more than a numbers game. It provides dignity and independence to those who need assistance day-to-day. I urge all parties and candidates to think about the society they are currently promising to create, and how those with care needs will be treated within it. If any party wants to create a society that respects and supports older and disabled people then they need to stand up for and invest in our care system.