This blog was contributed by Angela Kitching, joint Head of Public Affairs, at Age UK
The Care Bill’s conclusion in May brought to an end years of reports, commissions and draft Bills intended to turn a patchwork system of social care legislation into an adequate legal underpinning.
As a result of these changes there should be real improvement, such as:
- focusing care services on achieving wellbeing
- improving the system when someone receiving care moves home to a different local authority
- and introducing rights for carers.
But this is not the end of the journey for social care – it must be the foundation on which improvements to the system as a whole are laid.
Critically, funding for social care now falls so far short of what is needed to meet demand that many of the provisions in the Care Act, such as support for carers or a system aiming to focus on aspiration rather than need.
These necessary aims cannot be realised unless more money is made available. Coupled with increasing numbers of older people and younger disabled adults needing care, politicians of all stripes must now take steps to adequately fund social care services.
In the long term without this investment, we will not save money, we will merely shunt costs onto emergency care services, more expensive types of residential care and onto overstretched family carers who may be forced to leave their jobs, possibly becoming ill themselves, in order to manage their family’s care crisis.
Standards of care and safeguarding
The other care crisis that cannot be ignored is the crisis in standards of care and safeguarding. As we put ever more pressure on a creaking care system, cracks appear: staff numbers are reduced, the care offered is reduced in both quality and quantity to a minimum level.
In the worst cases abuse and neglect in care settings can sometimes go unchecked with underpaid and undertrained staff working in some parts of the system. The Care Quality Commission should ensure that regulated services are safe and fit for purpose, and should provide leadership in defining and promoting good practice.
However a regulator, particularly if inadequately funded, as has often been the case with the CQC, cannot be expected to keep track of the day to day experience of residents.
The Care Act places clear responsibilities on local authorities to make sure that care services that they fund or arrange meet the needs of service users. We now also need to see regulations and guidance that will drive home the vital importance of these duties.
We also urgently need to strengthen the current complaints system for social care users, making it clearer and more consistent regardless of who pays for your care.
There are very welcome steps in the Care Act that will clarify the coverage of the Human Rights Act and these must now be followed through to ensure that better training based on fundamental principles of dignity and respect are the norm across the system. This must go hand in hand alongside ongoing political commitment to improvement of standards in social care.
Better funding, an improvement in standards and ongoing political will to drive this forward. These are the key next steps if we want to ensure that the positive vision contained in the Care Act is truly realised.