Despite lots of discussion about adult social care in the media in recent months, the service is not fully understood and its importance is not fully recognised.
The truth is it can be hard to define because the term covers such a broad spectrum of services – from providing help with everyday tasks and helping people maintain links and interests within their communities to supporting those who have been recently discharged from hospital.
We all strive for a happy and fulfilling life – and we should all have the support we need to live one. But some people need extra care or support – practical or emotional – to do the everyday things that many of us take for granted.
And that’s where adult social care fits in – providing a safety net to those who need it, and empowering people of all ages, with a range of conditions and needs, to live with opportunity, independence and control.
Examples of social care and support services that people receive include help getting in and out of bed, bathing and washing, preparing meals, making home adaptions like putting railings or ramps in, day care access and residential care.
The system supports both older people and working age adults who have physical and learning disabilities, mental health conditions or are generally frail. People can receive care in their own homes, community settings like day centres or in care homes.
High quality social care brings people together by helping to create a network of local support that enables people to lead the lives they want to lead, and to participate and contribute to society.
But social care doesn’t just do that. It also helps to reduce pressures on hospitals. Through councils’ work to help prevent the onset or escalation of people’s needs, social care helps stop people going to hospital in the first place. And when people do need time in hospital, social care services help ensure that people are able to return home to their community safely and quickly. This is better for people and better for the public purse.
Social care also helps strengthen our economy. Its workforce comprises 1.5 million people. It helps people return to or stay in work. It is a hotbed for innovation, particularly new technology. It contributes an estimated £46 billion to the UK economy.
We should celebrate the fact that we are living longer. But as we do, the need for social care and support, as well as health care, is increasing. And unlike NHS treatment, social care isn’t free for everyone – how much you contribute towards the cost of your care will depend on your financial situation.
One in five of us has direct contact with the social care and support system – either as a service user, a member of the workforce or as one of the millions of invaluable informal carers. But in reality, nearly everyone has a connection to social care through family, friends or colleagues.