It’s hard to go a day without the climate crisis hitting the headlines. In May, MPs endorsed a motion to declare a climate and environment emergency. It’s a positive step for the country to take an active role in finding a solution to these problems. But another issue has been missed off the agenda: social care.
We see protesters on TV holding placards with messages such as “stand up for animals” or “planet before profits”. But what about “people before profits” or “stand up for vulnerable humans”? These ideals do not need to conflict with one another but instead should stand side by side. Creating a sustainable future would also benefit individuals’ and communities’ health and resilience. With a new prime minister and hunger in the air for social justice, let’s take this opportunity to make a real difference.
Almost four years ago, I started my career as a qualified social worker. In that time, I have seen an ever-increasing uphill battle for social care services to meet the needs of vulnerable people.
Since I started my current role a year ago, three homes in the area have closed. Those care homes that are still open might have restrictions stopping people from being placed there by the local authority, or limited spaces.
Stories like this across the country paint a very bleak view. I want good quality placements for the adults I work with, as do their families and friends, but the demand for places outweighs the number of beds available.
It’s not just a question of bed availability, but also a placement’s ability to meet often complex care needs. This can result in homes “cherry-picking” the type of adult they want to care for, which can lead to people being without the support they require for a longer period as the local authority has to widen its search to find a suitable home and once found, the council may have to pay higher fees.
My colleagues and I feel under pressure by the authorities we work for to practise in a cost-saving way, which can be at odds with key messages from the Care Act 2014, such as promoting wellbeing, giving choice and control over services people receive, and preventing, reducing and delaying the need for more support in the future. I have been asked as part of my performance measures to demonstrate saving money – rather than show how I have achieved positive outcomes for people – which is something I deeply object to.
The NHS makes headlines all the time, but there is less focus on social care, which is chronically underfunded. During the EU referendum campaign, Boris Johnson was one of the politicians promising £350m a week for the NHS on our exit from the European Union.
After becoming prime minister, Johnson announced: “We will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve.” Let’s ensure he and the government know we are watching intently and will hold them to account.
The health service was founded on the principle of universal healthcare free at the point of use. It assesses a person’s clinical need, not their ability to pay, and people using social care should be treated in the same way.
The time has come to declare a social care emergency. If people are prepared to take radical steps to protect our planet, why not for the most vulnerable in society, who often do not have a voice? As citizens we need to ask ourselves what standard of care we are prepared to accept. Will people pay higher taxes to enable higher wages for care workers or better investment in services so they can meet needs?
Gandhi perfectly sums up why this is so important for the government to take on board: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Social care cannot be left out of conversation and each one of us can do this by ensuring we give it a voice.
Tackling the social care crisis is not about short-term measures; it requires collective action across the UK government. Declaring a social care emergency would kick-start the debate and lead politicians to take tougher action.
Of course, making a declaration is the easy part and it must be accompanied by actions to meet set targets, such as increasing the number of care homes rated as good and better. It may seem dramatic to declare an emergency, but using this language should trigger a response. Progress so far has been too slow. Emergency action is the only option left.