As a society we’ve become all too familiar with crises: the financial crisis, the housing crisis, the refugee crisis. We’ve been having crisis shortages of courgettes, plastic bags and even ‘biscuits’!
In the headlines this week has been the crisis in ‘social care’. For many people the term ‘social care’ is probably quite abstract, but for me it’s something I’m intimately familiar with. I use the word ‘intimately’ very deliberately because this is a crisis that impacts on some of the most personal aspects of my life.
‘Social care’ is a catchall term for the provision of services for children and adults who are disabled, ill, at risk, or otherwise in need of protection or support.
In my own life, social care has a very specific and real meaning: it’s the help I need each day to wash, eat and dress. And when my tics suddenly intensify in the middle of the night it’s my social-care-funded support worker who stops me suffocating in my bed or having my skin shredded by my bedroom carpet. Without social care I wouldn’t be clean, fed or possibly even alive, let alone able to do a full time job,
I currently have a package of support that meets my needs and I’m incredibly fortunate to be in this position, sometimes it makes me feel guilty. I’m acutely aware how much my safety and independence costs, and I worry about the many thousands of people across the UK whose support requirements are not being met.
But the shame I sometimes feel about taking up resources is not a ‘natural’ part of disability. It’s a product of the relentless negative narratives propagated by our politicians and the media.
Nor is the current crisis in our social care system ‘natural’. It’s been created by the Tory Government’s relentless policies of austerity and privatisation.
Local authorities are responsible for delivering social care and over the last six years they’ve seen their budgets decimated by cuts imposed by central government. Year on year these cuts have got deeper and more devastating so it’s no coincidence that there’s now a gaping wound in our social care system. And it’s the blood of disabled and elderly people that flows from this.
Cutting social care has always been totally counter-intuitive. Surely providing high-quality responsive support makes sense financially as well as socially and morally. If you provide support right when it’s needed, and at the right level, an individual’s circumstances are much less likely to deteriorate and require more expensive interventions later on.
Sometimes social care gets conflated with our welfare system, but it isn’t the same thing. Social care isn’t about giving money to individuals but about employing people to undertake the skilled roles that keep others safe and well. 1.6 million people are employed in the social care sector, and they all contribute to our economy and pay tax on their earnings.
Here’s how it works where I live:
• I need help to meet my basic needs
• A local authority social worker assesses what I need and allocates public money to meet my needs
• This public money goes to a profit-making business to which my local authority has contracted out the provision of the service
• This business uses half the money it gets to pay someone to provide my care
• The other half covers their administrative costs and makes their profit
• In 2014 the care company that provides some of my care made a total profit of £49 million pounds
I just can’t see how anyone thinks this is a good idea. As far as I can tell the only people benefitting from the privatisation of the current social care system are the private businesses that get the contracts.
Some people argue that ‘market forces’ will lead to improved standards but this doesn’t ring true. I think it’s much more likely that the pursuit of ever-increasing profit margins will lead to the most basic service being provided for the highest possible price. An example of this is that when a large national company took over the business that provides my support three years ago, one of the first changes they introduced was a restriction on the number of plastic gloves each carer was allowed to have.
How are we allowing this to happen? It makes no sense.
From my position as a disabled person it looks as if the social care crisis goes far beyond just the delivery of services. We also have a crisis in how we understand and talk about disability, impairment, and illness. These are not niche issues. The chances are that if you have a mind or body, or care about someone who does, you’ll experience disability at some point in your life. Anyone who thinks social care isn’t something they’re likely to be affected by is wrong.
This isn’t a crisis that’s going to be solved by robots or by Tory minsters telling people to take care of their elderly parents. This is a crisis that needs a shift in attitude, language and understanding. It needs us to put pressure on our politicians and to challenge local decision makers. So here are three things you can do to help:
1. Contact your MP and ask what they are doing to address the crisis in social care and independent living.
2. Consider supporting campaigning organisations such as Age UK and Disability Rights UK.
3. Learn about the Social Model of Disability and share this way of thinking with as many people as you can. Don’t accept simplified characterisations of the current crisis. My impairment does not disable me, but a lack of support definitely does.
Surely we all want to be part of a society where, if we need assistance to live, to go to the toilet, to eat, to wash, or to work, there’s a responsive system that meets those needs, without causing shame, guilt or a constant fear that this basic lifeline will be withdrawn.
The true value of social care is so immense that it should not be quantified in monetary terms alone. It’s the difference between having hope and being trapped in isolation. The current social care crisis means thousands of people being trapped, imprisoned in their homes, or in our hospitals. We must not abandon them.
It’s essential that we push this issue out of the shadows and do whatever we can to ensure that we all have what we need to live safely, equally and independently.