Learning Disabilities & Autism

Social care crisis: the system is teetering on the edge

Anna Bailey-Bearfield, Policy Manager at the National Autistic Society

At what point will the national crisis in social care be tackled? Will it be when large-scale care providers close their doors, when autistic people are left stuck in their homes with no support, or when councils can’t provide the care they’re legally obliged to? Because that’s the reality facing our social care system today, as shown in such uncompromising terms by BBC Panorama’s recent documentary about the situation in Somerset.

The episodes were a much-needed reality check for us all on the state of adult social care. It shed light on issues that will be all too familiar to people working in the care sector, with councils over-stretched, underfunded and unable to provide the basic care that so many disabled people desperately need. This puts huge strain on the NHS to plug the gap too.

The impact of years of underfunding and patching up of the care system means too many autistic people are let down. The fallout is very often experienced by families behind closed doors and away from the eyes of the public. Whether it’s unpaid family carers supporting their loved ones 24/7, or autistic people feeling guilty for needing the council’s help, people are struggling through quietly. It’s also affecting staff who find themselves working incredibly hard in a system that is failing around them due to a lack of funding.

1 in 5 people who have care needs have gone without meals and over a third haven’t been able to leave the house because they have lacked support – according to research by the Care and Support Alliance, which we’re a member of.[1]

Somerset Council was really brave to open its doors to BBC Panorama and show the incredibly difficult decisions they’re having to make about people’s care. Decisions should be about the support someone needs to live an independent and fulfilling life. But, as the Panorama episodes show, it’s now increasingly about rationing care to what the council can afford.

The Government promised much-needed reform over two years ago. Yet we’re still waiting for this to happen. The social care Green Paper has fallen victim to the volatile political environment, which is seeing domestic policy issues left behind and a failure to reach a political consensus about how to fund care.

Every day more and more people need to rely on social care to be able to live a decent life, while the system teeters on the edge. It’s truly disappointing that after 20 years of attempts to reform the system, we’re no closer to resolving the question of how to fund it properly so that everyone can get the care they need.

This year will be a crunch point for councils across the country. No Government can afford to ignore the looming cliff edge any longer. Over the past couple of years, many councils – including Somerset – have been able to stay afloat because they’ve been allowed to raise council tax for care and they’ve received bits of funding as emergency measures. But after 2019 this money will dry up. And, with no Green Paper in sight, councils will be more worried than ever about how they’re going to make ends meet while providing care to those who need it the most. That’s why it’s vital that the next Prime Minister takes bold action to solve the funding crisis in care.

We encourage readers to write to your MP and ask them to call on the Government to publish the long-overdue social care Green Paper with no further delay.

[1] Care and Support Alliance (2018), Voices from the social care crisis. London

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