Our social care system has reached a critical stage, marked by the government's commitment to overhaul the care system, rethink the funding model and listen to the needs of service users and the public sector. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix the fundamental flaws: lack of clarity and unfairness. That is why today Demos launches the Social Care Constitution, which seeks to define a fair settlement between social care users and society.
What are the challenges facing social care? Firstly, the care system needs to address the demographic changes afflicting it; an ageing population and growing complexity of needs. In the coming decades, the number of people aged 85 and over in England is expected to increase by two-thirds, and the number of people aged 50 and over with learning disabilities is projected to rise by 53% between 2001 and 2021. As the number of individuals needing support increases, those who find themselves in caring roles, usually the family, will also be in higher demand. These informal carers have needs too; their economic health, physical and mental wellbeing and independence is rarely even acknowledged. The future system must guarantee their wellbeing.
Secondly, the existing structure is deeply unfair. The current needs-testing model pigeonholes users into one of four bands: low, moderate, substantial and critical, with three-quarters of local authorities providing services only to those placed in the latter two categories. This leaves thousands of people with serious needs on the outskirts of public assistance. Meanwhile, means-testing too often leaves people on the bring of poverty.
The Commission for Social Care Inspection's report last week criticised this "one-size-fits-all" approach where obsession with categorisation fails to cater for social care users as individuals with complex and widely varying needs. A Constitution for Social Care rewrites the values of social care, setting out both the rights and responsibilities of the cared-for and their carers.
The constitution has already been warmly received; 95% of service users we spoke to agreed that a set of underlying principles explaining the system in its entirety would be very beneficial to their lives. The National Health Service has recognised the need for a charter of rights for healthcare users: as social care becomes an increasingly pressing concern for government, its users and providers must also enjoy and understand their rights and entitlements.
The government is ready to listen and engage with various actors on how best to transform the social care system. If a transformation fuels a uniform, basic level of care, clarifies the complexities faced by users and outlines their rights and responsibilities it will be a success now and for the future.
A Constitution for Social Care is launched today in Westminster with the care services minister, Phil Hope, and shadow health ministers, Greg Mulholland and Stephen O'Brien. Silvia Guglielmi is a researcher at Demos
Joe Public Blog, 4th February 2009