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Was Social Care Funding Just Too Difficult A Decision For Government?

NHS_608x376Comments by Tony Pilkington, managing director, Younifi

The silence around social care funding in the autumn statement was deafening. After months of sustained campaigning to see a step change in the treasury’s attitude to funding – considering the predicted £2.6bn future shortfall in budgets – councils, care providers, charities, industry associations and those actually in need of care have been left reeling. Personally it left me asking – did he really not mention it at all?

Then I began to think about why, and to consider the Government, the local authorities’ and the care sectors’ position on the funding of care. By no means do I endorse the radio silence but trying to make sense of it all I thought about what conversations and discussions may have gone on behind closed doors.

From the Government’s perspective perhaps it’s a question of evidence. While the Better Care programme which released £1.2bn for social care from NHS funds does not cover the predicted £2.6bn shortfall, this money was intended to drive transformation and innovation in the care system. In reality though some of it has gone into fixing problems in the current system. Also, there are a number of innovation pilots underway within councils across the UK aimed at changing the way social care is delivered. Could there be a sense of wanting to determine more outcomes from these initiatives before pledging additional support? Whatever your view, this is something worth considering.

However, no matter what their thinking is, the Government was mistaken in not even mentioning social care in the statement. For its part Government certainly needs to communicate its stance and response clearly to the sector so that it is not simply ignored and left in the dark. I’m not sure if it would have been better or worse if the absence had been an accidental oversight rather than a deliberate exclusion. Either way it’s sustained a sense of being the lowest priority.

The absence of social care from the Autumn Statement unfortunately does not magically remove the major challenge it poses to councils. True there are still ways to innovate and room to change the way social care systems work in order to make them more sustainable for the future. What the government’s actions or inactions do reinforce is that Councils cannot sit still.

I’m buoyed by recent conversations I’ve had with many councils which have shown their determination to undertake fundamental change. To date  they’ve been grappling with meeting multiple cost saving targets and personalisation, that, while great in principle cannot be successfully achieved through current, traditional delivery models  Why aren’t central Government and local authorities able to collaboratively mainstream the best piloted models at a quicker pace?

Putting these two agendas into practice in a more achievable way would be a great step forward for adult social care’s long term sustainability. But we all need to remember that there is a short term crisis, which will only deepen the longer it takes to find the long term fix. Personally I think there’s no escaping the fact that money is needed now in social care to relieve pressure on the system and look at how they radically redesign their systems. . Mid-term, the (hopefully) successful innovation pilots need to go mainstream to deliver the change needed to support more sustainable care provision. Long term however, the government must remember that the sector is still driving blind; since the moth balling of the second half of the Care Act there really is no long-term plan.

Perhaps that is the answer; maybe there are too many open discussions about the future of care that still need concluding. Sadly, perhaps the question of how and why to fund social care at this point in time was too difficult to answer, and as a result it was easier to assign social care to the long grass.

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