Many of the challenges facing social care that have been exposed by the COVID-19 emergency are not new to those of us in local government.
Inadequate funding, an undervalued workforce, a provider sector battling with increasing pressures, an agenda for integration dominated by the NHS; these and many other issues have been at the heart of our campaigning work for some time. It is a tragedy that it has taken a pandemic to put these challenges squarely in the public spotlight.
In time, we hope that, above all else, this pandemic will be remembered for revealing our natural instinct to care about each other. Whether that’s our family, friends or neighbours, what we have wanted for them during this time is what we want for ourselves: to live the life we want to lead. Social care and support has shown itself to be an essential part of how we achieve that. Councils have led this by convening partners and coordinating the local response.
Social care has shown itself not as an end point on a journey toward a service or services, but as the way in which people are supported to continue their own personal journey in life. How social care is framed in the weeks and months ahead will be crucial to its future.
Now more than ever, we need to recognise that the inadequacy of the funding model for social care has held care and support back for too long. Of course, in the short-term, more funding will be needed. But as it is made available, we need to think how it can be used to help diversify provision so that people are able to access support in a way that best suits them: the right care, in the right place, at the right time. In this way, traditional residential care and home care services would still have a role to play, but they would exist alongside a wider offer of support that we have seen on display during the current pandemic, such as innovative housing arrangements and the maximisation of each community’s full range of local assets.
The workforce is fundamental to the delivery of all of this. It is heartening to see social workers and care workers now being more regularly recognised by all parts of society. But claps, a CARE badge, and offers of free goods and services from retailers are no substitute for proper pay and conditions and a pathway to progress within a professionalised care sector.
Through all of the above, we are seeking a change in how people are supported to live the lives they want to lead. This must be the legacy of COVID-19 for social care.
To support the Government’s reform process by facilitating the essential cross-party cooperation that is a prerequisite for success.
To work with all parts of social care, particularly those with lived experience, on a way forward for the long-term future of care that is informed by the many valuable lessons from the pandemic on the role and value of social care in all our lives.