As the vaccine rollout gathers pace and the government sets out its roadmap to recovery, it finally feels like we are moving closer to being able to put the nightmare of the last year behind us and begin to look forward again. For those of us in adult social care this means the long-awaited proposals for much needed reform of the system which were promised at the beginning of this administration, and which in the wake of the pandemic are now essential.
In anticipation of a social care white paper being released in 2021, the County Councils Network has been considering type of social care system that is fit for purpose for the 2020s – and councils’ role within this. CCN has maintained for some years that whilst a sustainable funding model for adult social care is vital, funding alone will not deliver the step change that is needed without substantial reform to the system.
That is the starting premise of our new report, The Future of Social Care, produced in collaboration with Newton. We did not want to simply re-tread well-worn arguments to come up with yet another enormous figure of how much money the system is now lacking,
Instead the report takes the alternative approach of examining what constitutes an ‘optimised model’ of social care delivery based on key foundations such as maximising independence for individuals and ensuring joined-up integrated services across health and care. This model can then be used as a template for reform and a yardstick by which Government can determine what resource the sector really needs as it considers the thorny question of how to raise revenue for reform – necessarily a national rather than local policy question.
The eventual report was the culmination of months of research, with engagement from over 150 people within the adult social care sector – including not just those working in local authorities, but also providers, residents and service users – carried out by care specialists Newton. What was striking in the engagement carried out was how hand-to-mouth councils are operating, with a significant chunk of social care funding renewed each year. Our member councils were clear: this does not promote long-term planning.
Perhaps most crucially, the local delivery of care by councils is one of the most important themes. Local authorities are best placed to bring care closer to communities because they are the community: they know their people and they know their providers. Their role should be enhanced, not diminished.
Our report’s recommendations have also foreshadowed some of the reforms set out just days later in the newly published NHS White Paper such as strengthening the role of social care within Integrated Care Systems (ICS) and aligning ICS boundaries with those of social care authorities to maximise collaboration in the drive for more joined-up care. At the same time, parity of esteem between the health service and social care – and a more positive profile for care – are also key ingredients for reform.
In the year before COVID brought everything to a grinding halt, there had been accelerating momentum gathering behind social care reform. By necessity the last year has required the primary focus to be on day-to-day concerns. But now it is time to start looking to a better future and restarting the conversation which will deliver the social care system we all know could exist with the right reforms.
Jonathan Rallings, senior policy officer for children’s and adult social care, County Councils Network