Flicking the Switch on Social Care

Last week Liz Kendall spoke at the ADASS Spring Conference (Association of Directors of Adult Social Services), setting out Labour’s vision for social care. I have had the pleasure of working with Liz as part of panel discussions, round tables and LGA Boards and she totally “gets it”.

Liz is a politician of absolute conviction and authority on social care. As Labour continues to develop polices and a vision for governing Britain, I hope what Liz and many of us are saying about social care will be taken forward as our manifesto commitments.

Liz referenced her work of twenty years ago in her speech— the call back then was for a shift towards prevention, greater devolution to local government and for more co production. It is an absolute outrage that that here we are, twenty years later, still saying the same such things.

The Conservatives have been in power for over a decade now. Lots of well-meaning words, chin-stroking and a few financial bungs when they talk about social care, but very little action. Is it any wonder at all that health inequalities have grown exponentially?

They have repeatedly failed to address issues such as funding, workforce and regulation in this long-standing broken system. The publication in February of the White Paper, Integration and Innovation has much to welcome, however, even this fails to address the critical need for long term social care reform.

The focus is as ever on health, yet if Covid is to teach us anything, it has to be the recognition that the NHS cannot function without social care.

Over the summer it was a genuine privilege for me to co-chair an elected member commission by North West ADASS that examined the impact of Covid-19 on people with care and support needs. I felt humbled and at times utterly heartbroken at the stories I heard. Equally I was heartened by a fast paced, solution-focused approach to supporting those with care needs by individuals, families and organisations.

It is this approach that I believe we can and must develop across social care to “flick the switch” towards wellbeing and prevention of ill health, instead of waiting for a crisis to happen.  Allow creativity to flourish at a community level; break down unnecessary barriers that will then mean people are able to start to develop their own solutions; and allow people to remain independent in their own homes.

All too often the word “vulnerable” is used to describe recipients of care and that a career in social care is only about caring for older people.

As someone who has worked across care for 25 years these are myths I constantly have to dispel. I cut my teeth working in drug and alcohol services and latterly managing mental health crisis teams. Jobs I absolutely loved and was proud to do. What gave me an even greater buzz was watching people who had been impacted by addiction and mental health issues recovering and then working in the field. Using their experiences to support others to thrive.

As Labour continue the process of shaping our social care vision and policies we must commit to doing these things:

Firstly, change the narrative. When we have the conversation about social care, it must stop being seen as an issue that is just about care homes and people having to sell their homes. We clearly know funding is a conversation we need to have, however a third of users and half of the budget for social care is for working age adults with disabilities. Social Care is a force for good, it empowers, enables and supports people to live independent lives. We must talk about social care in the same way we do about the NHS, it is as vital to our daily lives as health services, not just something that is tagged on the end when people start to struggle.

Secondly, communities must be at the heart of the solutions we seek to find. Trust and genuinely listen to people. Communities have stepped up during this pandemic and know what is needed. Ensure we engage with experts at Social Care Futures, ADASS and people who use services; there is a rich wealth of experience out there, people who are desperate for us to get it right.

Third, really value the skills and experience that Councillors and local government have around social care. We have been doing this stuff a long time, we know our onions! Let us be fully involved in the policy discussions, alongside the communities we serve.

And finally, Labour must make an absolute commitment to integrate housing into our health and social care vision. The “Home First“ principle can mean many different things to different people but we need to commit to delivering models of extra care, older people’s communities and shared care, that will allow people to live longer and healthier lives in a place called home.

Here in Trafford, where I am the Executive Member for adult social care, we have committed to stop referring to the people we support as “placements” or one of the other 100 acronyms that are used across health and care. Social care is not just something that happens to other people.

We all age, if we are lucky, and we will all have times in our lives when we may need some extra support. It would do us all good to remember, when we talk about social care, we are talking about people and that, whatever reforms we fight for, we need to create a social care system that treats others the way we would wish to be treated.

Joanne Harding is the Executive Member for Adult Social Care on Trafford Council. She has been a councillor in Urmston Ward since 2011. Joanne is a candidate for Labour’s National Constitutional Committee. She tweets @Joanne13Harding.

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