News & blog

The future of social care depends on all of us

Brendan Martin

Some say it’s a step forward that the United Kingdom government has finally addressed the challenge of social care funding. Others say the planned tax changes are so regressive as to be unsupportable.

Both points are valid, but I say that if there is one conclusion to draw from the week it’s that we need to stop believing that the state, any more than the market, can fix social care.

Just about every analysis or commentary I have read agrees that most of the new money will go into tackling the growing backlog in acute medical services and won’t even be enough for that.

Meanwhile, the worsening crisis of social care – expressed with alarming clarity by six figure staff shortages — will keep pumping new demand into the other end of the NHS pipeline.

We cannot go on like this.

Health and social care professionals deserve our respect and support for their continuing resilience and commitment to keeping services going, and our commitment to do all we can as responsible citizens to alleviate the pressure on them.

Their sector leaders also deserve praise for the continuing determination with which they keep the pressure on the government to organise the resources needed just to keep the system propped up.

But I believe our civic responsibilities go much further than that because, vital though it is to keep baling and patching the boat we’re all in, the fact remains it is sinking and we need to build a new one.

That needs to start with what we mean by ‘social care’ – a phrase drained of the meaning of the two words that form it as long as it represents a service, a sector or an industry rather than a way of life.

I cannot improve on what Social Care Future have formulated: “Don’t we all want to live in the place we call home with the people and things that we love, in communities where we look out for one another, doing the things that matter to us?”

But no service or industry can do that for us, however much money we give it. It will happen only if it becomes a fundamental organising principle of our economic and social relationships.

We all need more time and energy to care for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities, with professional help that complements and supports our individual and collective efforts rather than inadequately replacing them.

Instead, our ‘social care’ sector requires most of its employees to work long hours for low pay in insecure jobs – about as far from a true notion of social care as you can get — and now they are to be hit by increased taxes into the bargain.

Yet we could easily afford for everyone to do less but better paid work for more money by sharing the benefits of the productivity gains of technology more fairly, both within the organisations that employ us and across society.

While working for change at those levels, however, we can also make very much better use of the resources already at our disposal, in both local communities and public services, and in their relationships with each other.

That is the theme we will explore in our Caring Places – Building Healthy Communities festival, in London’s beautiful riverside Savoy Place and online on 19 October.

There are already some great examples of what can be achieved, and we will hear from a good few of them, from around Britain and beyond, as well as from the radical thinkers and practitioners helping to guide and grow them.

In the last two weeks alone several of our panellists have set out their stalls with great eloquence – follow the links to the thoughts of Angela FellAlex FoxDonna Hall and Anna Severwright for examples.

We will also highlight Buurtzorg’s own contribution to this growing movement, from the global standard it has set for community-based health and care in the Netherlands to the change we are supporting in Britain.

So please join us with your own vision, in person or online, on 19 October. If we could put it on for free we would, and with the support of Buurtzorg and PPL, as well as my own investment, we are keeping ticket prices as low as we can.

Further sponsors would be welcome, and we can offer big discounts for social enterprises and community organisations. Get in touch via to talk about that.

The many and various people and organisations we are aiming to bring together at #CaringPlaces21 have each created a unique piece of a growing jigsaw. Together, without any grand designer taking command or control, we can produce a beautiful picture.