A View of Social Care From the Party Conferences

09/10/2013 15:48 BST | Updated 09/12/2013 10:12 GMT

Whether talking about HS2, the bedroom tax or the size of the Prime Minister's towel party conferences are a chance to discuss some of the most high profile issues on the political agenda. The past year has been a momentous one for both health and social care, and everyone is aware of the massive spending restrictions and restructures in the NHS. The Care Bill represents some of the biggest changes in social care in the last fifty years, yet awareness of this is lower. Attending party conferences this year, I wanted to hear what each party had to say on the issue of social care and how this might make life better for disabled people.

The Care Bill is currently being debated in parliament and aims to both modernise the system and improve it for everyone who uses it. Social care will affect us all at one point or another in our lives and is something we should all know about and not just in the context of if we will have to pay for our own care. Understanding amongst delegates varied between the three conferences.

At the Liberal Democrat conference this year social care was a hot topic, with a motion on the agenda and a range of fringe events. Local councillor delegates were well represented, raising their concerns about the challenges faced by local government in implementing the Bill. This group of delegates were the best informed about the proposed changes. The bill of course was the brain child of former Health Minister Paul Burstow, whose views were well represented over the course of the conference, along with the current Minister, Norman Lamb.

As the opposition party, Labour were keen to set themselves apart on spending plans. The big debate was the integration of health and social care as a way to improve the experience for those who use the system and to make big cost savings. Andy Burnham certainly has a clear idea of what his party believes the future health and social care should look like and groups such as the Young Fabian Health Network were quick to embrace these ideas at the fringe events in Brighton.

Currently, social care is paid for by local authorities and health care is provided for centrally. This means that for many people with long term needs they end up being shunted from one to the other as both try and avoid the cost or view one problem and as health and one problem as social care. Proposals to integrate the two have been around for years, but finally they seem to be gathering momentum.

Over the last few days in Manchester discussion has centered on the NHS. One of the impacts of the current coalition Government was that there was no minister with responsibility for social care in attendance at Conservative party conference. The majority of the social care fringe events I attended over the last couple of days were led by back bench MPs and there seemed to be little attention given to it by any of the big hitters. Discussion focused on the issues for those self-funding their care and where the cap should lie. Questions at the Health Hotel debate were dominated by GPs and other health professionals. It didn't feel to me like a great deal of attention was being given to social care at all.

We know that many people with sight and hearing impairments, including the deafblind people Sense support, are struggling to get the levels of social care that they need. Social care isn't just about personal care, such as help with showering and eating meals. It's about being part of your community, being able to leave the house, going to work and providing people with a good quality of life. The Care Bill's recognition of this could bring about a fundamental change for many disabled people.

It has been a difficult year for disabled people and undoubtedly the challenges will keep on coming. However provision of social care will affect us all, not just older people, but carers and disabled people who want the support they need to get out to work. The sector is also a major employer and contributor to the economy. We can only hope that debates about how we can realise the promise of the Care Bill will gain a higher profile in the run up to the 2015 general election.