“Tonight on the 6 o clock news, thousands protest as local authorities in an attempt to meet Government spending plans try to slash another 5% from social care budgets. There were angry scenes up and down town halls outside the country as campaigners vowed to fight until the bitter end “my mum would be dead if it wasn’t for social care” said one man “without them she’d have given up the will to live”. Another woman agreed “I used to worry I’d have to put my daughter into a home but with social services help, she lives in her own home and has a job. They’re brilliant! I can’t praise them enough!” The leader of the “care not cuts” campaign Ms U Topia said “the Government will not win on this; social care is like a religion for the British people. Without it tens of thousands of people would live lonely and vulnerable lives, dependent on the goodwill of family and neighbours. The British people will never let this happen”
And then of course back in the real world…..
Why is it that the mere mention of a closure or downgrade of a hospital has hundreds if not thousands of local people attending protest meetings, writing letters, going on marches, lobbying and generally making it known as vociferously as possible that they will not tolerate this happening. You can guarantee that the local MP no matter from what party will appear on the regional news with a grave face saying “this must not be allowed to happen, lives depend on the ability of people in Suburban town to have their NHS care locally where they need it”
Cuts to social care however, are routinely met with maybe a few tens of protesters, possibly if it’s something big like a care home a hundred or so, and the odd letter to the local paper. Local voluntary organisations will work together with service users and meet with the local council where they will be listened to sympathetically and then ignored. The wider public will be either totally unaware or completely indifferent.
The news today from the BBC that showed just 4 out of 101 councils paythe £15.19 per hour the UK Homecare Association (UKHCA) believes is necessary to cover wages, training and travel will come as no surprise to anyone working in or with social care. It is just the latest in a string of reports highlighting poor care and bad practice in social care. In Dec 13 the BBC reported that the number of people receiving social care had dropped by a quarter, in October 13 Leonard Cheshire published a report which got widespread coverage about the iniquity of 15 minute care visits and around the same time the equality and human rights commission said that care staff face poor pay, high pressure and a lack of support.
However, I expect that the response from the general public to this report will be (if we’re lucky) an “oh isn’t it terrible?” followed by massive wave of indifference. It’s not that people don’t care about the vulnerable, the frail and the sick but there is massive public disengagement from social care. Why? Why is it that the public feel so little ownership of social care, something they fund far more directly through council tax than they do the NHS?
There are I think 5 main reasons
- People haven’t a clue what it actually is or how it works. They may have a vague idea that a care assistant comes in and helps with things but they don’t really know how that might actually happen in practice.
- It’s hidden away. They don’t see social care happening. Most of it happens in people’s own homes or in buildings euphemistically labelled “resource centres”. They don’t come into contact with it unless they actually need it.
- They don’t understand how it’s funded or what it costs to deliver.
- Users of social care are amongst the most disempowered people in country. There has been progress over the years through user led organisations and personalisation to rectify this but service users views are still routinely downgraded, ignored or just set aside as “too difficult”
- People don’t want to think about getting old and frail or what it’s like to have a disability or sensory impairment. There is huge ageism in our society and a dismaying rise in disablism. It has to be said though, most people don’t want to think about getting cancer either but that doesn’t stop millions being raised from the public from cancer research.
In an ideal world, social care would be integrated with the NHS and funded centrally but that is unlikely to happen. I honestly don’t know how we champion social care and change the public’s attitudes so they feel ownership of it, and pride in it, but if we don’t, we’re in danger of having a system that will collapse.