The Local Government Association, on behalf the broad leadership of the social care sector including the Association of Directors of Social Services, has published a set of 7 principles to guide the future of adult social care post Covid. But they show the sector’s leadership continuing to be high on rhetoric, but empty on substance. They are bankrupt of ideas to make the rhetoric a reality.

The 7 principles talk, for the umpteenth time, of social care needing to be based on ‘what works for people, not what works for systems or structures’. They seek to emulate the person centredness that makes the NHS so valued by the public. People trust that when they present symptoms to an NHS clinician the diagnosis and treatment will be based solely on the clinician’s knowledge of what is wrong and what is possible. It would not even occur to the person that the determination of their diagnosis and decisions about the treatment options will be referred upward to a manager, least of all to a manager whose primary task is to manage the budget.

But, for reasons set out in my recent blog, this is exactly what happens in social care. At the individual level, while need precedes resources in health care, resource precedes need in social care. It’s an arrangement that serves very well the political expedients of keeping spend precisely to budget while denying the existence of any funding gap. The sector’s leadership, sadly and only too willingly, obliges.

So sector leaders are left yet again repeating mantras with a long record of failure. The history is lamentable.

Following the failure of the Community Care strategy of the 1990’s to make social care ‘needs led’, the personalisation strategy was launched in 2008 with personal budgets the centre piece. ‘Up-front’ allocations of money would empower service users to purchase their own support package, the ultimate in person centredness. Bu it quickly became apparent that up-front allocations would not happen. Completely impracticable and ignored by the Care Act ‘up-front’ allocations became ‘indicative’ only and thus tokenistic. In 2012, Think Local Act Personal, the organisation charged by Government with leading implementation of the strategy, issued a series on exhortations to practitioners and councils under the banner Making It Real.

The irony in the implicit message that personal budgets had completely failed to ‘make it real’ was lost on the sector’s leaders. Inevitably, Making It Real had no impact. TLAP duly issued a second iteration of Making It Real in 2018. It too has had no impact. And so to the present and the 7 principles amount to yet a third exhortation to ‘make it real’.

Exhortations to practitioners and councils to deliver ‘what works for people’ are hopeless in the face of underlying, powerful systemic forces that ensure the system’s priority is to work to sustain itself.

What of the future for social care – integration with the NHS?

It’s hard to imagine anyone taking the analysis and remedies of sector leaders seriously. This is not just because of the self harm in exposing the bankruptcy in their own ideas. Covid’s exposure of the impoverishment of social care invites questions of the leadership Councils have provided over the decades. Is it really just about government under-funding? How soon, if not already, before Councils are seen as a busted flush?

Signs are pointing to integration with the NHS as the political solution. But with social care in its present state, that would be a disaster for both services and the older and disabled people who rely on them. The NHS is at its best delivering clinical care to deliver best possible health. When it moves beyond that into care, its record is even more lamentable than that of local authorities. The bureaucratic opaqueness and gross inequity of Continuing Health Care bears witness to that. A weak and unreformed social care service risks being reduced to little more than a servant to health objectives. This would sound the death knell of the ambition of social care to be the driver of our older and disabled citizens being supported to lead the fulfilling and dignified lives they are capable of.

 

Colin Slasberg – former Assistant Director of Social Care and Independent Consultant in Social Care.

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