Lords committee joins calls for social care reform

Barely a week passes without another report about the crisis in social care. Underfunding, workforce shortages, providers handing back contracts they can’t fulfil…. The problems are so familiar that you might wonder what more any new report could say.

But in recent weeks we did see the publication of a report that did say something different. Before Christmas, the House of Lords’ Adult Social Care Committee published the result of its inquiry, to which Sense submitted a response.

We’re impressed with their report. Why? Because it takes a step, asking the key question: What is social care actually for?

The purpose of social care

In all the debate around social care funding, it’s a question that can sometimes be overlooked. Social care can so easily become a numbers game. The focus is so often how much money the system needs to function – rather than what we can do to enable everyone who draws on care and support to lead independent and meaningful lives.

Of course, it is vital that the numbers do add up – and at the moment, they don’t. But addressing underfunding alone will not ensure that every person with complex disabilities can access support that empowers them to do what they want with their lives.

This broader view of social care is at the Committee’s report. The report, ‘“A gloriously ordinary life”: Spotlight on adult social care’, makes a powerful case for co-production being at the heart of a social care system that has high aspirations for disabled people. Sense shares this vision, and we were grateful for the opportunity to feed into the report.

Sense’s response to the inquiry

Our response to the Committee’s year-long inquiry had three focuses:

  • embedding co-production into a social care system that looks at the needs of the whole person
  • addressing the workforce crisis
  • improving the transition from children’s to adult social services.

We’re pleased to say that the Committee have listened to us on all these key areas.

Meeting the needs of the whole person

Everyone deserve be able to lead a meaningful life. And everyone has a right to choose how they spend their time. Yet our social care system doesn’t always give people with complex disabilities the support they need to do this.

Instead, 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.

This theme runs through the Committee’s report. As they put it; “Drawing on adult social care should not … mean resigning oneself to a lower quality of life. Instead, social care needs to be about being given the extra support required to enable people to live what one witness described as a “gloriously ordinary life”—like any other citizen.”[1]

Sense believes that good care puts the individual at the centre of their support, ensuring that their wishes and goals are the basis for any outcomes rather than fitting them into existing service provision. This is called co-production.

The report echoed this theme, calling for the Government to ‘work with local authorities, the voluntary sector and social care providers to embed the principles of coproduction.’

Addressing the workforce crisis

Getting the right staff has always been challenging for the social care sector. But now things are worse than ever. While underfunding of the system means that providers often can’t pay their staff as well as they would like to, that’s far from being the only problem.

Staff need to be able to progress in their careers, while providers need to be able to recruit the right number of workers with the right skills. This is the case in the NHS, as it is in many other industries.

This simply isn’t true in social care. There aren’t the same opportunities for training as there are in other sectors. Staff providing high-quality care have a range of specialist skills – yet these too often go unrecognised.

Sense believes that this needs to change. And the Committee’s report agreed with us, backing our call for a workforce plan and citing our evidence on the need to professionalise the workforce.

Improving the transition from children’s to adult social services

Any transition can be challenging. The transition to adulthood can be particularly difficult for everyone. But children with complex disabilities face particular barriers.

Some families, for instance, report that local authorities remove much of their child’s support after they reach 18. Others report that they are finding it difficult to find appropriate placements after leaving school.

One respondent to a survey we carried out between January and March last year said that their hope was to ‘find a suitable day centre after school where I can socialise and have fun whilst being safe. I leave school in July and nothing is in place.’[2]

We welcome the fact that the Committee highlighted our evidence around this. They also cited a Sense survey which found that fewer than 1 in 10 parents of children with complex disabilities felt that their child would be able to access the specialist support they would need to fulfil their aspirations. [3]

Once again, this is such an important issue for people with complex disabilities –and yet it so often gets overlooked.

What happens now?

With the publication of the report, the work of the Adult Social Care Committee is mostly done. It’s now down to the Government to issue its response. It should do this by early February. More importantly, however, the Government needs to put the report’s recommendations into action. Sense will be doing everything we can to make sure that the Government listen to the Committee’s report.   

[1] Adult Social Care Committee: A “gloriously ordinary life”: spotlight on adult social care

[2] Potential and Possibility research carried out by Sense in 2022

[3] Potential and Possibility research carried out by Sense in 2022