How can political parties put disabled people at the heart of social care reform?

person we support and carer smiling and laughing

We’re a good way through the general election campaign, and it’s about time political parties started talking about crisis in social care.

Disabled people often get left out of the conversation about care. But Sense research shows it’s not just older people who are struggling to access the right care.

A quarter of people with complex disabilities receive social care, but one in five don’t feel that they have the right support to meet their needs.  

This isn’t a new problem. But our Potential and Possibility research found that the situation is getting worse.

A quarter of people with complex disabilities who receive social care had their care provision cut in the past year. 15% even had their care withdrawn altogether.

The need for action is clear. But what can the next Government do to make England’s social care system works for disabled people?

What Sense wants to see

As a charity, Sense doesn’t support any political party. Our priority this election is to make sure that disabled people, including the 1.6 million people with complex disabilities, are at the heart of what the next Government does.

Our manifesto sets out the seven key changes Sense wants to see every political party adopt.

So what does it say about social care?

Make reforms with people with complex disabilities in mind 

Social care reform needs to work for everyone who uses it. And while the debate often focuses on older people, a quarter of people with complex disabilities receive social care.

Some disabled people get visits from care workers in their own homes, while others live in supported living or in full-time residential care.  

It’s vital that the next Government announces a plan for social care reform that makes sure every disabled person can access the care they need.

Set out a 10-year funding plan for adult social care 

Adult social care has been underfunded for years. But local authorities in England – who are responsible for commissioning social care – are finding that their budgets under more pressure than ever before.

A third of adult social care leaders have been asked to make cuts, according to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Service.

This means that fewer disabled people are getting the support they need to lead independent and meaningful lives. Sense research has found that a quarter of people with complex disabilities who receive social care had their care provision cut in the past year. 15% even had their care taken away altogether.

Sense is calling for the next Government to set out a 10-funding plan for adult social care, meaning providers can afford to provide high-quality support and to pay their staff well.

Set out a fully-funded workforce plan 

Staff shortages have impacted a third of people with complex disabilities who receive social care, according to Sense research. It’s one of the key reasons why people are finding it harder to get the care they need.

It’s true recruitment has been a problem in the sector for a while. But our social care services tell us that the situation has been worse than ever over the past few years.

Funding for social care hasn’t kept up with rising costs, meaning there’s even less money available for providers to pay their workers well.

Many care workers are leaving their jobs for roles in the NHS, or in unrelated sectors like retail, where pay and opportunities for career advancement are better.

To tackle staff shortages, we’re calling for the next Government to publish a workforce plan for social, alongside the funding to put it into action.   

Make sure that the social care system does more than meet basic needs

Social care is often seen as being about meeting basic personal care needs – for example, assisting someone while washing, helping them to dress, or preparing meals. This support is often crucial. But, on its own, it is not enough to make a meaningful life.

Good social care enables people with complex disabilities to express choice, communicate and be understood by staff, develop independent living skills, reduce loneliness and access their communities.

The next Government needs to make sure the social care system empowers disabled people to communicate, develop their independence, build relationships, and be involved in their communities.

Bring home disabled people living in hospitals 

A hospital isn’t a home. But there are over 2,000 people in inpatient units because they are autistic or have learning disabilities, according to NHS figures from January 2024. This isn’t right.

What next?

We’re calling on the next Government to prioritise bringing disabled people home from inpatient settings.

We want every political party to commit to Sense’s proposals for reforming social care. We’ll be keeping an eye on politicians to make sure that they set out a plan for reform during the campaign.

But, whatever happens, whoever is elected, Sense will be ready to work with the Government to put people with complex disabilities at the heart of social care reform.