The value of social care to society
To ensure that social care continues to support vulnerable people, society as a whole must understand how social care works, recognise its value, understand the challenges it faces, and share the responsibility for driving the sector forward.
People who understand how social care works essentially fall into two groups: those who work in social care, and those who receive care. Family and friends of those who use social care will also have a level of understanding – but what about the rest of the 65m people in the UK?
There is little reporting in the mainstream media around social care issues – so most people only think about social care when they or their family need it. When in crisis and in need of care and support, people are not interested in the issues facing the sector – they simply want it to be there and to work properly – and rightly so. However, if society does not support social care, it may not be there to help them, or their family and friends, in the future.
Social care must engage with people outside times of crisis if it is to gain their support and input. This is especially important given the issues facing the sector, notably the continuous cuts to local authority budgets. These cuts affect how local authorities commission care, how providers deliver care, and directly affect vulnerable people who rely heavily on social care to live independently.
If society does not understand the importance and value of social care it will not take collective responsibility for shaping the way care is delivered. It is unlikely then, to support, invest, and fight for social care. If this continues, society may find there is insufficient care provision for those who really need it. When that happens it will be too late to do anything about it.
The Social care sector must raise awareness and understanding now to gain the support of society to motivate people to take a shared responsibility in driving social care forward into the future.
Social care is there to support people, so it is up to all of us to shape it, invest in it and ensure it is fit for purpose. In reality the responsibility of shaping and delivering social care in the current climate is mainly left to local authorities, care providers, and care workers. However, society should not be blamed for the lack of interest and understanding if the care sector does not engage, inform, and gain the support of the people.
The lack of a collective sense of responsibility towards social care means it is undervalued. Many fail to see the serious impact of budget cuts to services because they simply do not realise what good care costs. Again, this is not a failure of society but reflects the lack of engagement on the part of the care sector with people who currently are not linked to social care.
Most local authorities outsource care to external providers. Some of these are small companies, other are large organizations with significant infrastructure. Care providers need to work in partnership with each other, local authorities, and the NHS to connect with the general public and promote social care long before people need care.
There are many organisations, which are highly committed to improving social care, and raising awareness of the issues facing the sector as well as proposing potential solutions. However, far more people need to be aware and involved if we are to keep, and strengthen our social care system. These organisations are in an excellent position to work with care providers and local authorities to help raise peoples understanding of both the issues and the value of social care in our society as well as facilitating discussions with people around what social care services should look like.
The role of the media
The social care sector must understand the power of the media, television, the Internet, and social media, and use them to increase understanding and awareness of the issues facing social care and get society fully behind the sector. Society needs to understand the value of good social care in helping people to live independently and enhance their health and wellbeing.
Unfortunately, society generally only hears about social care through the media when there is a failure on the part of a local authority or care provider. The good work done by the care sector (in spite of the challenges facing local authorities and care providers) is rarely reported in mainstream media.
Awareness around social care could be increased through news, documentaries, and current affairs programmes, and – importantly – by including more social care issues as part of storylines in dramas and soap operas. This might raise a smile but how else can social care connect people who have no idea or current interest in how the sector works?
Large social care providers need to use their influence and networks to connect with the media to influence them to factor in the promotion of social care issues in their programming.
The time is now
The way social care is commissioned and delivered will need to change to meet the needs of people who require care but to do this effectively it needs the full support of society. Society needs to understand and value social care now so it can influence and drive forward the changes needed to ensure that high quality care continues to be available for those who need it now and into the future.