One of the highlights of our work at Independent Age is hearing about how a call to our Helpline can be transformative for people wading through the complexities of the social care system. An appointment with one of our advisors, where tricky questions are answered and entitlements explained, can be a real turning point.
When we’re able to help in this way, people tell us they feel a weight has been lifted. Their anxiety feels less all-consuming. They are better equipped to face the challenges ahead, armed with better understanding and the knowledge that someone has listened and is on their side.
But what about those we never hear from? What about those who don’t know any help is out there? Or who don’t have anyone to come alongside them and so are navigating the complexities of accessing social care entirely alone?
Many of our calls are from family members, willing and able to offer their support to older relatives, but of course not everyone has this. The new secretary of state for health and social care may be keen to tell us that care ‘begins at home’ and people should lean on their families first, but this just isn’t the reality for so many people in later life.
So one of the things that keeps me awake at night is the knowledge that in our work with older people, we are only ever seeing the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to people struggling with the challenges of accessing care and support in this country. Which means too many people are being left to reach a crisis point before they can access the support they need.
The fact that we need Helplines at all for people to access the social care they are entitled to is surely a sign of how much has gone wrong. It points to the need for a more fundamental shake up in social care and better coordination with health care. We need systems that don’t require vast expertise to help navigate them and we need a fairer offer where personalised care is the norm, not something that only those with resources and energy manage to fight for.
What are the building blocks for this? There is no getting away from the fact that we need to spend more on social care in this country so that all those who need support can access it. The recent Comprehensive Spending Review was a real disappointment for anyone who cares about the future of social care.
But increased investment also needs to go hand in hand with higher aspirations and stronger vision of what we think social care is there to do. When we think about what we want for ourselves, our ambitions go well beyond keeping safe, clean and well fed. We want care services that enable us to keep doing the things that are important to us, that helps us retain our independence– that make us feel like ourselves.
This is the essence of personalised care. But it requires people with enough time to ask the question: what do YOU want? So, we must urgently invest in the care workforce, so that those working in care have the space, skills and time to provide the kind of support that enables people to live lives of dignity and purpose.
Ultimately, the test of long-awaited reform in social care must be: is this care that we would want for ourselves and our loved ones? We must demand no less for all who draw on care and support.