Care in crisis – urgent action needed

Last week Age UK launched its Care in Crisis campaign in order to highlight to Government to widespread support for urgent reform of the social care system.

Social care is currently in crisis and is letting people down.  Across England eligibility thresholds are being restricted, charges are increasing and services squeezed.

Currently around 800,000 older people in need of care and support don’t get any formal help. This shocking figure shows just how serious the crisis has become.

For those people able to access services, the support they receive is too often inadequate or poor quality leaving them without the care they need to live safely and with dignity.

Without urgent action this crisis will continue.

So last week Age UK launched its Care in Crisis campaign and petition urging the Government to grasp this opportunity for far-reaching and sustainable reform of the care system.

So what exactly are the issues?

  • The system does not provide support for those that need it: In 2011-12, nearly 80% of local authorities have set their eligibility threshold for adult social care at ‘substantial’ and a further 3% set their threshold at ‘critical’, meaning that hundreds of thousands of people who don’t meet these criteria are missing out.
  • The system is unfair: there is a postcode lottery for care. Eligibility varies depending on where you live and there is no portability if you move between local authorities.
  • The system makes it impossible to plan ahead to meet future care needs: people do not know what to expect from the state or understand what they are personally responsible for.  Without any idea of how much it could cost, no-one is able to plan ahead.
  • The system often leaves people with undignified care:  too often, there are stories of people being left unfed, unclean and ignored. Older people regularly tell us they feel invisible and what they want and need is not taken into account.
  • The system is complex and difficult to understand:  information and advice is poor and the current legal framework surrounding care is complex and confusing.  Too often services do not join up.
  • The system is under-resourced: there is not enough money available to provide good quality care. This situation is likely to get worse while local authorities seek to balance their budgets by cutting social care at a time when demand for services is only going to increase. From 2010 – 11 to 2011 – 12 older people’s social care expenditure was cut in real terms by £331 million (4.5%), this is despite the government providing additional money for care in the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review.

These are not challenges for the faint-hearted. We need to fundamentally redesign the system to make it reliable, fair and sustainable. A few tweaks here and there are not going to solve the problem or give people confidence in future services.

So we are calling on this Government to be the one to achieve successful reform where all others have failed.  Key to success will be political consensus on the way forward, an understanding of the nature and scale of the problem, and a willingness to invest.

And what do we want care to look like in future? Age UK has set out seven key building blocks for reform. In the future we want all older people to confidently say:

  1. I receive the care and support I need and there’s no chance I’ll be left without it
  2. I receive high quality care and support
  3. The care and support I receive enables me to live safely and with self-respect
  4. I am able to plan in advance before I need care
  5. I am able to pay for my care in a fair and transparent way
  6. I find the system clear and easy to understand
  7. If I have a family member or friend who acts as a carer they have the support they need and are not expected to sacrifice health, career, social life or future economic security

Age UK’s Care in Crisis campaign has kicked off with a call to sign our petition.  We’re aiming for 100,000 signatures in support of care reform – an important indicator to David Cameron and his Government that thousands of people care about care.

I know when I’m old that I will want to be able to say those seven things about care.  I’m banking on the care system being there to support me and my family. Is that what you want as well?  Sign our petition here.

 Find out more about Age UK’s Care in Crisis campaign

Author: Lizzie Feltoe

Policy adviser for care services at Age UK.

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