The maxim ‘we are all in this together’ has been tested almost to destruction in the Covid-19 pandemic. But social care is one area where the dictum has taken on more meaning, and where understanding of its truth has grown, as the crisis has opened people’s eyes to the size, complexity and vulnerability of the sector.
Politicians and the public have been on a steep learning curve about what we do in adult social care, how it is done and how it touches the lives of so many of us. For many people, it has been the first time they have understood that the care home where grandpa lives is part of an enormous system called social care, that the woman who pops in to help the neighbour is part of social care, or that the activities club, suspended for Covid and being so badly missed by a cousin with a disability, is usually part of social care too.
Another well-worn saying of the pandemic is that we have made more progress in ‘X’ in the past 12 months than in the previous 10 or 20 years put together. There’s a lot in that when it comes to the profile and presence of social care. And yet another axiom is that nothing will ever be the same again, that there can be no going back. But of this we in social care cannot be so sure.
Without doubt the sector has a golden opportunity in 2021 to move decisively forward from this position of newfound strength, to break out of the shadow of the NHS and achieve the standing and funding for which we have campaigned for so long. But to do so we must be resolute, united and crystal-clear on our goals and strategy.
An immediate objective must be parity of esteem for care workers and NHS workers and a big step towards parity of reward. The astonishing dedication shown by the social care workforce during the pandemic, and the sacrifices made, deserve nothing less. At ADASS we are calling for an emergency winter workforce initiative to attract a new generation into social care work and careers. We want to see as national care wage of at least £10.90 an hour and, in the longer term, a full and funded workforce strategy for the sector.
The other non-negotiable for 2021 must be concrete progress on the long-awaited reform programme for social care. It is more than 18 months since Boris Johnson said he would fix the crisis in the sector once and for all with a clear plan he had prepared. We are still waiting to see that plan. The Department of Health and Social Care’s latest line is that it will appear ‘this year’. We must press with all our strength for that not to mean December.
Not for the first time, the word in Whitehall is that the Treasury is nervous of the costs to the Exchequer of any meaningful reform. We need to counter that in language that the Treasury understands, stressing how social care can be a real engine of recovery for the economy coming out of the pandemic. It is a sector already employing 1.5 million people in England alone, contributing an estimated £41 billion to GDP and offering guaranteed growth because of demographic trends.
There are many other things we need to see in 2021, including full reimbursement of social care’s Covid costs and a guarantee of the £1.3 billion extra funding we need in England to meet demographic and inflationary pressures even before any reform. But our eyes must stay fixed resolutely on the big prizes. This is our chance, this is our moment.