Resetting the relationship between local and national government. Read our Local Government White Paper

Why does adult social care matter?

This is the first think piece in the LGA's series 'Towards a sustainable adult social care and support system'.


Foreword by Cllr Izzi Seccombe OBE


Cllr Izzi Seccombe

Ipsos Mori’s latest Issues Index from March 2018 shows that Brexit leads the public’s list of the single biggest issues facing the country (selected by 32 per cent of those polled). The NHS, hospitals and healthcare comes second (14 per cent). 

With less than a year to go until the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, it is perhaps unsurprising that Brexit tops the charts. Equally, given the much-publicised pressures that faced the NHS over the recent and challenging winter period, allied to the fact that our health service tops the list of things that ‘make us proud to be British’, it is not unexpected to see the NHS poll so highly.

What is surprising – and concerning – is that only 2 per cent of the public believe that ‘ageing population/social care for the elderly’ is the most important issue facing the country. Surprising given the growing media coverage of the agenda since its prominence in the last year’s General Election and subsequent political fora. Concerning because it suggests that, as a nation, we are not alert to the reality before us. As many commentators have observed, the provision of adult social care and support is now a major public service challenge given the increasingly difficult task of squaring rising demand with reducing resources.

In 2016, that task prompted the sector’s regulator, the Care Quality Commission, to speak of adult social care ‘approaching a tipping point’. Today, others might argue we have already tipped, or have at least moved much closer to the edge. Whatever our precise location on the scales, one thing is clear: the long-term future of adult social care is far from secure. That is why the Government’s forthcoming, and much-anticipated, green paper on care and support is so vitally important; it is a chance to build a system that is fit for future generations.

We have been here before, of course. In the last 20 years there have been several green and white papers, commissions and independent inquiries considering the future of adult social care. The experience has taught us that consensus can be achieved with relative ease when it comes to defining the problem and articulating a vision for the future. What has proved far less easy, ultimately to the point of progress being derailed, is consensus on the key question of how, as a society, we should pay for adult social care and support.

Upon its publication, this could well be the section of the green paper that most people turn to first. Whether or not the answer to this question will lead to this latest green paper suffering the fate of its predecessors and ending up in the long-grass remains to be seen. The LGA will be doing all it can to ensure it does not. As part of our efforts, we are publishing a series of think piece reports that address some of the key questions that cut to the heart of the debate about the future of adult social care and support.

This first publication starts from first principles and asks the question: why does adult social care matter? It seems a simple question to answer and in one sense it is: it’s about improving people’s lives. But delve a little deeper and you uncover a series of different answers that point to social care’s importance to our communities, our economy and our very values as a country. Indeed, as the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said recently: “How we care for our most vulnerable citizens is the true litmus test of whether we are a civilised society”. By his own admission, “we need to do better”. I do not disagree with him.

I am therefore very grateful to the prominent colleagues who have contributed their views to this publication. They have not only offered a powerful and persuasive answer to the question at hand, but they have also helped define what “better” should be. As you read through them, and the LGA’s headline position, I hope the content motivates you for the weeks and months ahead as we collectively work to secure the future of adult social care and support.

There is no doubt that work will be made easier if the public is behind us; not just those with an immediate stake in the service, but all parts of the public, including young people. That is why the LGA is planning a campaign to engage young people on the future of adult social care and I can think of no better starting point in helping to raise awareness than in setting out clearly and powerfully why adult social care matters. I therefore encourage you to share and promote this publication widely as part of our joint efforts to promote the real value of care and support.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe OBE

Chair, LGA Community Wellbeing Board