Let’s be totally, brutally honest, Governments don’t want to tackle social care.
They may want to be seen as dealing with social care but the reality is to tackle it properly will cost money and Ministers would rather spend that money on things that get them re-elected than on an area which, frankly, does little to ignite the public imagination.
There are, of course, many individual MPs who are intensely passionate about social care as the recent debate on dementia showed, many have personal experiences of dementia, ageing and social care and they bring at least some balance to the lack of real debate on tackling largely unanswered questions on the future of social care.
While social care may fail to ignite public imagination it does, frequently spark public indignation. Widely publicised cases of abuse or of people having to sell homes to pay for social care lead the social care debate and, while the majority of those who receive social care services are satisfied with their care, it is the negatives that drive Government reaction to social care and influence policy making decisions.
This, unfortunately and detrimentally to social care, means that the reality of today’s society is ignored completely in favour of short term reaction.
The reality is people are living longer and because of that there are an increasing number of people who need or will need social care services as the get older. Ageing increases to probability of age related conditions in turn increasing the need for people needing support in their everyday lives. Whilst, rightly, people are encouraged and supported to remain at home as they age there also has to be a recognition this will not always be possible nor will it always be in the best interest of the person. So we also need to recognise and acknowledge the place of care homes in the social care system.
The perception of care homes is, perhaps, outdated. The image of a home for retired genteel folk is outdated and the reality is that those who do go into residential or nursing care do so at a much later age and those care providers are having to become increasingly specialised in dealing with age related conditions, such as dementia, incontinence and osteoporosis. Yet the need for such specialism, and the cost of it, goes largely unrecognised in Government policy.
Naturally not all care providers are perfect and there are certainly those who do not provide the necessary training in the specialisms required and those whose sole aim is profitability rather than care provision yet they can only exist in a culture that doesn’t focus on the reality of social care and policy that fails to meet this reality.
The ageing society also provides other challenges to social policy that Governments have failed to tackle. People with disabilities are also living longer and need services to meet the challenges of ageing. Many people with learning disabilities are unknown to social services and support during their life by their parents, but as they age, and their parents age or pass away, they are increasingly in need of social care services yet social policy has yet to recognise this demographic and appropriate services are in woefully short supply.
Not everyone who needs social care services is over the age of 65 and that needs to be equally recognised. For these individuals the issue of who pays for social care is unimportant and many of the health related ideas of integration are minimal compared with the need for integrated services in housing and employment.
If society is to provide the best possible social care to those who need it we need to recognise the changes to society and the increasing importance of social care to our society. We need to change how we think about social care and recognise that ageing comes to all of us and our own future is equally tied into social care policy as that of those who need social care services now.
Government, of whatever colour, must lead the change in thinking about social care, it must raise the debate for all who need social care services, no matter what age and it must find the money to meet the demands of social care now.