Social care must seize the moment to take centre stage
"The term ‘unprecedented times’ is overused but I can’t think of a better way to describe the current state."
The coronavirus crisis has focused government minds on the care sector. We must make sure we take this opportunity to make lasting changes.
The term ‘unprecedented times’ is overused but I can’t think of a better way to describe the current state. The global impact of this pandemic has been horrific and the death toll beyond comprehension.
A quarter of the workforce has been furloughed, Universal Credit new claims have hit the 2 million mark and we are in the middle of the biggest recession ever to hit our shores. Both the OBR and Bank of England suggest the economy will drop by around a third in this quarter and by as much as 15% for the whole year. By all accounts, predictions of a v-shaped recovery are probably optimistic.
As always, the greatest casualties are those in the communities housing associations work with.
At this stage, you can be forgiven for thinking this is yet another gloomy piece about the dire impact of the pandemic. Not so. So many positive stories have come out over the last few weeks and we need to capture these. For a start, we have seen significant supply side interventions to save jobs and livelihoods. Such eye-watering stimulus packages are unknown in modern times. We have seen the virtual ending of rough sleeping from our streets. We have seen a significant reduction in traffic with a positive impact on our environment. We have seen the mass mobilization of people adjusting to home working with no apparent loss of productivity. Crucially, we have seen the much-needed appreciation of essential front line workers in our society.
The approach to the social care market is a very good case in point. This has been the poor relation for too long, characterized by under-funding, lack of strategic planning and absence of an integrated approach with other services. More recently, we have seen a total lack of coordinated approach to issues such as testing and PPE.
However, things are changing. It is unfortunate that it takes a pandemic to achieve what we have been asking for over several decades, but in the last few weeks there has been a step change.
For a start, we have seen an injection of around £3bn to help local authorities address the challenges posed by Coronavirus, including measures to protect care providers’ cashflow whose viability is threatened by increasing costs. In the context of reducing commissioning fees over many years, this is to be welcomed.
A key ask of the sector has been the integrated approach to local health and care. This has eluded us for far too long. Yet, within a matter of weeks we have seen a coordinated approach on a range of issues, including the safe discharge from the NHS to social care settings.
Local Resilience Forums have been set up with joint collaborative working between agencies on matters such as resource allocation and supply of relevant equipment. There are efforts to bring together the NHS, armed forces and others to scale up the supply chain and improve speed and reliability in the delivery of essential items.
Some local authorities are setting up ‘provider hubs’ in their areas. These aim to provide professional advice and support to all care providers in their fight against Covid-19. Crucially, the hub is a collecting point for key information and data in relation to care providers and care users.
In a sector that has faced long term people shortages, there is a significant increase in the number of volunteers to the health and care sectors. 750,000 people have put themselves forward to play a vital role in saving and protecting lives. The government has set ambitions to attract 20,000 people into social care in the next three months, with involvement from ‘Skills for Care’ to make it easier for employers to access online induction training for staff.
After the current crisis has abated, publication of the Social Care Green Paper must be a key priority for this government. Failure to capitalize on the progress made so far would be a wasted opportunity.
Over the last few weeks many mistakes have been made in relation to the care sector, not least in terms of testing and supply of PPE. However, we are beginning to see what is possible when there is a will and strategic focus. In this, as in many other areas, I really hope we do not revert to the ‘old normal’.