The lost generation – a quarter of a century of failure in social care

1986 saw the birth of email as we know it today, the announcement of a tunnel to be built between Great Britain and France and the publication of a report showing that the social care system was unsustainable and needed major reform. A quarter of a century on, email is truly embedded into daily life, France is a mere train journey away and the Dilnot report published in July 2011 showed the social care system is on the brink of collapse and in desperate need of reform.

Successive governments have ducked and dodged the issue, creating a confusing and conflicting legal framework and consistently failing to fund adequately fund social care.

The combined result is a crisis in care of epic proportion, with a broken system of care that cannot cope with people living longer with illness and disability. As politicians try to reach consensus in cross party talks on social care and the Government prepares the white paper on social care, the weight of historical failure will hang heavy.

The last set of cross party talks prior to the 2010 General Election ended in disarray. Politicians cannot afford a repeated breakdown in talks. According to a You Gov poll of 1,726 English adults commissioned by Age UK in January 2012, four out of five people believe the Government is not doing enough for older people.

The question is whether, set against the backdrop of austerity measures, the Government will now have the courage and conviction to create a lasting legacy of care and support.

This once in a generation opportunity to put pressure on the Government to properly fund social care is the reason why Age UK is asking everyone to sign our Care in Crisis petition.

Age UK are calling on the Government to reform the adult social care system. Find out more about our Care in Crisis campaign and how to sign up to our petition.

Social care expenditure in the context of informal caring

The funding of the social care system is very much up in the policy and political agenda, but it is seldom related to or put into the context of informal, voluntary caring. Let’s have a look at some numbers.

Public spending on social care services on people aged 65 and over, net of any fees and charges paid by clients, amounted to roughly £7.5 billion in 2010. This includes the assessment and care management, the placements in nursing and residential care homes, the provision of supported accommodation, home care and day care services, equipment and adaptations, community meals and other community services, as well as any direct payments.

We looked into the Survey of Carers in Households in England 2009/10, which reports the prevalence of informal caring –that is, excluding people providing care in a professional capacity. In this survey, carers are defined as those people who identify themselves as having extra responsibilities of looking after someone who has a long-term physical or mental ill health or disability, or problem related to old age.

The survey shows that around 8 per cent of people aged 65-69 provide informal care for at least 20 hours a week (the preferred measure for statistical reasons), and this figure goes up to 15 per cent among those aged 75 or over. Incidentally, only 3 per cent of informal carers look after someone due to old age.

Using the population estimates from the ONS, we estimated that around 1 million people aged 65 and over are providing care for at least 20 hours a week -equivalent to 11% of all people in this age group.

If we adopted the most conservative figure of only 20 hours a week (and remember that the survey measures ‘at least 20 hours’), we would estimate that in a whole year, people aged 65 and over provide around 1.04 billion hours of informal, voluntary care.

When economists are pressed to translate voluntary care in monetary terms, we tend to use the minimum wage, which currently stands at £6.08 an hour. Multiplying the minimum wage by the number of hours of informal caring annually provided by the 65 plus, we get a grand total of £6.3 billion. That is, £6.3 bn worth of services foregone by older people. Over six billion pounds that are not computed in the gross domestic product, and that tend to go unnoticed in the current discussions about the care system.

More to the point, it is equivalent to 84 per cent of total net expenditure on social care on older people. In other words, the 65 plus are generating for free services equivalent to 84 per cent of all the public spending on social care on this very age group. 84 per cent! And that’s a very conservative estimate…

Age UK are calling on the Government to reform the adult social care system. Find out more about Age UK’s Care in Crisis campaign and how to sign up to our petition.