Like many colleagues in adult social care, I was pleased to see the Government announce the long-promised adult social care White Paper, People at the Heart of Care, on 1 December. Despite the many questions and challenges, I see this initial proposal for reform as a foundation stone upon which we can build and transform care, supports and safeguards – a blueprint to inform future choices and shape our efforts for the years to come.
When looking at the White Paper we must recognise and appreciate its ambition. It makes positive references to the importance of technology, effective data collection and assessment, as well as fostering innovation to lead the transformation. Overall, this is a positive narrative, setting out strong values and principles for the decade to come. The Government has proposed a ten-year programme to implement reform. It has also set out £500m to support the professional development and wellbeing of our care colleagues – a positive first step to address the sector capacity issues.
While the White Paper is welcome, and I eagerly anticipate how this initial thinking will evolve and develop over the coming months, it is clear more must be done to ensure these ambitions become a sustainable reality that benefits those of us drawing on social care, or providing care, supports and safeguards. Many details are still needed to fill in the blanks and gaps and to take this from an initial step to meaningful change.
To achieve what the Paper sets out, we need to be ambitious about the type of care and support we want for ourselves and our families – that must be fundamentally different to what we have today.
We need a motivated workforce that sees this transformation as an investment in them, rewarding them appropriately and valuing each one of them for their skills and dedication. So, £0.5bn for training and wellbeing is a welcome starting point; but to truly address the sector’s workforce crisis we need substantially more money. This would send a strong signal to people that care work is a career that is respected and is going to be properly rewarded in future – and we need it now.
Our greatest challenge when considering the White Paper is in striking the right balance between acknowledging today’s challenges while looking ahead to our future. We must ensure our present struggles do not inhibit our ability to look positively towards our future with real hope and possibility. It is paramount that we continue to work together to create a bridge to that brighter future by ensuring people continue to get the care and support they need over what promises to be a difficult winter.
If you are familiar with my writing and advocacy, you will know I have a tendency to see the glass as being half full. But it would be disingenuous if I didn’t draw attention to the collapsing state of our social care system.
We are facing the highest rates of staff shortages that any of us can recall, and those who have remained are exhausted and overworked.
This issue can only be addressed by making adult social care a positive career choice – one that is well remunerated, awarded, and valued. We must both recognise and reward care workers who have performed tirelessly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and who continue to do so now throughout this tough winter – all amidst extreme staff shortages. So too must we recognise and support those of us doing unpaid care work.
At the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), we have called for a £1,000 bonus for care workers, and a £1.5bn package for carers so we can give those who are depleted of energy a much-needed rest.
Published on the day before the White Paper, the ADASS Snap Survey found that despite local authorities commissioning 15% more care in people’s homes over recent months, the number of people waiting for social care assessments, care packages and reviews is dramatically increasing.
The bottom line is that more people are waiting longer and ultimately receiving less care and support. The results for them as individuals and us as communities are truly disastrous. The focus of any survey is to concentrate on the numbers, but these are not numbers, these are people’s lives.
Adult social care is magnificent – there is so much to be proud of. Yet, imagine what adult social care could achieve if we truly back the principles and ambitions set out in the White Paper.
Together, we can create a better future, but only if we deal with the crucial challenges of today.
I am eager to work alongside the Government in making these ambitions a reality. I am optimistic that with the right support from the Government and the necessary funding, adult social care will be able to undergo the fundamental transformation it so clearly needs, and what we all want.
Stephen Chandler is president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services