How do we increase public understanding of social care?


A few months ago I wrote a blog about a world where people cared as much about social care as they do about the NHS. Since then I’ve periodically returned in my thoughts as to how we could make that happen.

Two recent things have really brought home to me how crucial it is we find a way of doing this. The first was the response to the Kings Fund Barker Commission. The report itself examines the future of both health and social care funding but inevitably what was reported by the media were the suggestions made around the possibility of some NHS services being charged for and the social care aspect was largely ignored. The second was last week’s Protecting Our Parents  on BBC2 where the bewilderment and anger of people at the care people received at home was widely expressed on twitter and elsewhere.

In my original blog I suggested 5 main reasons why people didn’t care about social care

  1. People haven’t a clue what it actually is or how it works.
  2. 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.
  3. They don’t understand how it’s funded or what it costs to deliver.
  4. 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”
  5. 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.

I should add that I think one of the other key problems is that it suits Governments of all political hues to kick social care firmly into the Local Government field and point accusing fingers at them when cuts happen. It’s not us they say, WE think social care should of course be properly funded but it’s an issue for local government you see, conveniently ignoring the unprecedented and savage cuts made to local authority budgets. Generally speaking local politicians respond to what local people complain about and what most people complain about are pot holes, pavements, rubbish collection and parking. Social care is rarely high up the list of most people’s agendas.

One of the problems we have is that when there is public discussion in the media around social care it focuses solely on number 3, how it should be funded accompanied by sad faced pictures of people saying how their mum had to sell the family home to pay for care. In my mind, the often poorly researched and inaccurate articles about social care funding that do exist in the main stream press only make the situation worse. It seems to me that any debate around funding is doomed to fail. How can the public possibly think about how social care should be funded if they don’t really have a clear idea what is is, who it’s for, how you get it, where it happens etc The others times that social care appears in the media, it is generally being criticised for providing crap services (15 minute visits), encouraging a race to the bottom (low pay, poor conditions) or being roundly abused for either interfering in things that don’t concern it or for not doing enough when people needed it.

So, how do we not only increase public understanding of social care but get them too care about it as well? (Possibly even see it as important as the NHS) NB I should say I’m talking about adult social care. There is a definite need to do something similar around children’s services but it’s an area I have very little knowledge about and wouldn’t presume to make suggestions

These are my ideas but I’d love to hear what thoughts other people have

1. Recognise that most of the wider public will be starting from a knowledge base of zero and so any campaign to raise the profile of social care must start with where the public are at, not where we’d like them to be. Market research and drawing on what we do know about public views is key

2.  Agree a small number of simple key messages about social care that can be repeated again and again and again

3   Heavily involve people receiving social care in telling their stories and the difference that having social care has made to their lives

4. Get some well known faces to front the campaign because often that’s the only way to get media coverage

5. Have a national social care day. Yes I know I know there are already a plethora of days for everything – but there’s not one for social care and it least gives a focus and a target

6. Develop a programme to work in schools and work places to help people understand what social care is

7. Encourage community venues that are delivering social care to become more open to the public and engage more with the community and proactively local strategies that encourage and support this.

It feels to me that if social care doesn’t find a way of fighting its corner, it will become increasingly starved of funds and eventually be subsumed into the NHS and while the NHS is brilliant at many things, I don’t believe social care is one of them.