Opinion

A unified voice for social care

Mike Padgham, Chair, Independent Care Group

There is little doubt that these are difficult times for social care providers.

Despite positive noises about a Green Paper to reform funding of the sector last year, nothing was forthcoming.

And for all the promises during and after the General Election, we have begun 2020 with little sign of any improvement.

So, the situation of 1.5m people still living without the care they need and providers enduring a precarious existence continues.

The Government is to increase the living wage and minimum wage. Good news for lower-paid workers like those in social care and I would love to see even greater increases.

But the sector must be able to afford them and unless these rises are matched by an uplift in funding into social care, these wage increases will just add further pressure to providers, especially to those who are providing publicly-funded care.

That is just the latest challenge for providers in recent months, and indeed years, as we all try to steer our way through the turbulent waters of social care.

As a provider, I have felt it important to buck the trend for closure and consolidation and to expand and grow to a size we feel we can operate efficiently at to thrive in the future. Hence, we have grown from two centres to five, through acquisition, in the past three years.

There is no magic bullet for success and all providers – small, medium and large – are vulnerable when times are tough. However, it remains our belief that growing to enjoy some of the economies of scale that brings, is more sensible than staying as we were.

The cornerstones of success remain, in my belief, providing the best care that you can, investing in your team and your premises and strong marketing. Always moving forward and looking at ways to improve and innovate will always be top of my agenda.

Speaking as chair of the Independent Care Group (ICG), an organisation of care providers across York and North Yorkshire, I would say that supporting our members through these troubled times is our number one priority.

Fundamental to that is growing the organisation – the greater the size of the group, the stronger the voice we have. Allied to that is gaining and growing our profile and I am proud that we have punched above our weight in that regard for some years now. We regularly gain local, regional and, increasingly, national coverage for our campaigning voice on behalf of social care as we fight for fairer funding across the sector. We all have a part to play in getting social care higher up the political priorities.

That will be the key in 2020: to keep up the pressure on the Government, remain positive but determined to fight for change. The Government is showing little sign of budging on social care – talking yet again of “cross-party” consensus, which in my book sounds like yet more reports, consultations and meetings before we see any action. We have had enough of those in the past.

The ICG and others will need to step up the pressure this year to persuade politicians that we need action now, not a further pushing of social care into the long grass.

What can we do to make the Government listen?

Not a withdrawal of services, as that would harm the very people we are caring for. But what about withholding our fees from the CQC, might that make a statement?

That would only work if everyone did it together. Such unity is going to be vital if we are to get our message across.

There is room for lots of different organisations to represent social care but that isn’t necessarily the best channel to reach government.

Maybe this is the decade that we unite and create one, national organisation that speaks for all aspects of social care which, with strength in numbers, is listened to more readily than many different groups are. Can we create an organisation like the CBI has for business, the NFU for farming and the BMA for doctors; one strong and unified voice, with a single, clear message: get social care done. Worth thinking about.

Meanwhile, this is a big opportunity for the Government to be bold and brave over social care, to take risks. They will be forgiven if their solution isn’t instantly perfect but what would be unforgivable would be to carry on as we are, do nothing and leave care to struggle on and that 1.5m to grow and grow. This is an opportunity for the Government to go down in history as the one that solved the social care crisis once and for all; we must make sure they do.

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