What is social care?
To those of us who work in the sector that is probably an easy question to answer, although I suspect many of those answers will actually be slightly different, but what does it mean to the general public and the mainstream media?
It is perhaps the vaguest of all social policy areas after all most social policy is easily understood. Housing refers to where people live and the links between poor housing, welfare and deprivation are fairly easy to see to the average person (obviously to specialists things are much more complicated than that). Education means teaching our children to learn and, while there may be arguments on the best way to do this, when politicians talk about education the general public knows it is about schools, colleges and universities. Employment is about getting people to work and ensuring that the conditions of work protect employers and workers. Welfare is about the State supporting those in need, yes they is a debate about how you define that need but we all understand what is meant by welfare.
Health is also an easy issue to understand, it is about our physical and mental well-being. If we are ill we see a doctor, the type of doctor we see depends on what is wrong with us. We would expect our G.P. to refer us to the appropriate specialist in either physical or psychological issues and then expect to be treated by them, and that the system that the general public expect social policy to support. One of the reasons for the animosity toward the Health & Social Care Bill is the worry that changes may make this system different and more difficult to achieve the best possible results for our own health.
But what about social care? How easy is it for the average person to understand what social care means when politicians and professionals talk about it?
In 2006 the Department of Health described social care as “the wide range of services designed to support people to maintain their independence, enable them to play a fuller part in society, protect them in vulnerable situations and manage complex relationships” (DH (2006) Our health, our care, our say: a new direction for community services.)
Yet does that really mean anything to the average person?
Take, for example, services to support people to “enable them to play a fuller part in society”. The majority of people tend to think of social care as services for the elderly, something not helped by politicians who insist on focusing on how elderly care is paid for, and would find it hard to see what playing a fuller part in society would actually mean. After all for most people life does not involve “society”, it just revolves around work and home life (yes I know that is society but how many people think of it like that).
Social care does, naturally, support people to play a part in society, beyond supporting older people, support for people with disabilities involves trying to enable people to getting employment and if that is not possible ensuring that they receive their full entitlement of benefits (but, says the average person, isn’t that employment & welfare policy?)
Social is, or should be, about promoting and maintaining independence and enabling people to live where they want to live and ensure they are living in accommodation that is most appropriate to their needs. It is about ensuring that people have the adaptations and support in their home or, if their needs are greater that they can find accommodation in a home that will allow them to be as independent as possible whilst minimising potential risk (but, says the average person, isn’t that housing policy?)
Perhaps the mainstay of social care is providing personal support for people who are no longer able to support themselves. The reason for not being able to support themselves is generally down to physical or mental deterioration, age related conditions can be physically disabling and diseases, such as dementia, impact on the mind. The role of social care is to ensure that these people have support in maintaining their physical and mental well-being (but, says the average person, isn’t that health policy?)
There has been a lot of talk about integration in social care but the real fact is that social care is the integrating service.
Social care should be about bringing all other policy areas together for the benefit of those who need them. Social care should be seen as the umbrella under which all other policy areas sit because all of the areas could may need social care intervention. This is especially true if we include children’s as well as adult services in our overall definition, education, housing, welfare, employment and health all have an impact on the “social” and where they fail it is down to social care to step in to aid the individual, whether vulnerable child or adult, and support them to achieve the best possible outcome.