Paul Morgan, Managing Director, Operations, Audley Group
On October 22nd the health and social care committee published its report into social care funding and workforce. The recent focus on social care is a welcome first step, and the pandemic has brought into stark relief the need to reform the sector. Covid-19 has left an already creaking system on the brink. Hard working and fantastic carers need more support; the system owes them more. And that’s not to mention those that they care for. We at Audley Group this month conducted some research which highlighted the problems: two fifths (41%) of over 55s have struggled to access care services during the pandemic.
That figure should give anyone pause for thought. Is that the country we want to live in? It’s perhaps easy to dismiss the issue as yet another pandemic-caused crisis. But that would be missing the point. The pandemic has merely served to highlight a crisis that has been decades in the making. An under-funded, under-resourced and under-planned system that puts pressure in all the wrong places.
The committee’s commitment to pump £7 billion more a year into adult social care is clearly welcome. But I can’t help focusing on the potential missed opportunities. This is a situation that cannot and should not be solved solely by money – the system is incredibly fragile and is in desperate need of fundamental reform. Money will help paper over the cracks. But a lasting solution can only involve ripping apart the status quo and looking at much earlier intervention or support for people to lessen the need for care later in life.
We need to bring together health, social care and housing to create a holistic solution. Why housing? Because it is proven that those who live in housing that is suitable for changing needs, with access to care as and when they need it, are less likely to end up in hospital or a care home. People are currently forced into the care sector long before they need to be there. Therefore by increasing access to specialist housing, like retirement villages, you immediately and fundamentally take pressure off a system that so desperately needs it.
We are working with the Associated Retirement Community Operators (ARCO) to call on the government to create a task force to tackle the obstacles holding back the growth of the retirement living market. This should be a welcome solution for all parties – because it does not require an injection of cash. If there was increasing clarity on housing with care within the planning system, and if local authorities were to incorporate provision for these kinds of developments when they plan new developments within their areas, we would start to see supply meet the growing demand.
Looking at solutions which consider the health and wellbeing of people as they get older has a multitude of benefits. The social care system would be able to focus on those that really need support, lessening the funding need, while importantly, individuals would stay healthy and in control of their own lives for far longer. The pandemic has exposed just the tip of an iceberg and if any positives can come out of a very difficult year for the social care sector, it is that real reform starts now.