Professional Comment

After Decades Of Dithering On Social Care Reform, The Next Government Needs To Deliver Urgent Action – Not More Empty Promises

By Gillian Ashcroft Campaigner for Social Care Reform, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist

Talk to anyone working within, or relying upon, the social care system in the UK and they will tell you just how broken it is, and probably how broken they are too as a result.

Yes, there are pockets of positivity and good work, but the national picture is one of crisis and a sense of active denial by politicians of all persuasions to consider the ambitious solutions we need to put things right – after decades of failings by successive governments.

With just days to go before the General Election, none of the manifestos from the main political parties vying for our votes at the ballot are offering any real hope for the future of social care.It is a sad situation for all of us who work within the sector, trying to make a difference to the lives of the people we see every day who deserve better.

While my work is mainly focused on the provision of care for at-risk and vulnerable children and young people, the extent of the challenge we face as a country is impacting all age groups in our society.

So, if there is one subject at this election that cuts through the entire population, it is health and social care; young or old, there may come a time for all of us when we need to reach out and ask for some help.

Given this is the case, why do all the recently unveiled manifestos from the main political parties in the UK fail toreally address social care head on?

The existing system has well-known problems, unchanged since they were examined by the Royal Commission on Long Term Care in 1999. Since then, the solutions needed to address the changes this country requires in its social care policy and implementation have not been forthcoming – and this electioncampaign has yielded nothing new in this debate either.

Both Labour and the Conservatives are offering the same old solutions of the past. The Liberal Democrats have put social care at the centre of their campaign, but their proposal for free personal care would not address the wider failings of the social care system.

The Labour Party model of a National Care Service could have some potential, but the details are unclear. The manifesto gives no indication of how the model would be funded or what it would mean for people using services.

Meanwhile, the Green Party and Reform UK have suggested some interesting ideas and significant investment targets in the wider NHS, with actions targeting social care provision. For example, Reform UK has pledged to set up a Royal Commission to look at adult social care within the first 100 days of Government.

But since neither of these parties stands a chance of winning in the upcoming election, these ideas are not likely to see the light of day and make it from pledge to policy.

In my opinion, the only way through the endless cycle of crisis identification and inaction, that has dogged social care for decades, requires political consensus and national engagement – which means we need a proper nationwide discussion, rather than brushing the topic aside, such as has been the case duringthis election campaign.

From my own professional viewpoint, looking at the challenges in social care for children and young people, there are several key areas where intervention and action is required:
Access and availability: we must ensure timely access to appropriate services for children and families in need.

Quality of care: we need to maintain high-quality care that meets the unique needs of children, considering their developmental stages and emotional well-being.

Transition to adulthood: we need to look at how we supportthe transition from child to adult services, which can be complex and challenging.
Safeguarding: it is vital that we protect children from harm, abuse, and neglect, while balancing their rights and autonomy.

Talent pool: there is a shortage of skilled professionals in child social care which needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Funding and resources: we will of course need to secureadequate funding and resources to provide effective services, and many of the political party manifestos fall short on explaining exactly how money will be raised to pay for these.

One of the main ways to achieve change for the better is, I believe, through more collaboration. In tandem with all the above, social care reform should be seeking to coordinate efforts across agencies, schools, and healthcare providers to ensure holistic support. There is considerable will and passion within the sector to put things right.

Whoever gets the keys to Number 10 from 5 July onwards, it is vital that social care is a top agenda item for urgent action – because the people of this country who need help the most deserve much better than another decade of decay and delay.