The news that Gordon Brown has announced a wide-ranging consultation on the future of social care is certainly good news. In his speech, on the 12th May, the Prime Minister made strong points on the expected future situation: “we expect nearly two million more people to have care and support needs in 20 years time”. But is this the right viewpoint to be taking? The most pressing question is what is social care FOR. The answer, in RADAR’s view is not just to stay alive, to get up, to eat, to bathe, to go to bed again. It should rather provide the support we need to go to a good film, learn new skills, visit friends, go to work – or anything else we want to do. With that support disabled people can do anything – and be full citizens. Without it we are mere beneficiaries – part-citizens.
So Government shouldn’t just be looking at the costs of providing ‘care’ (we prefer the term support) – but at the opportunity of supporting more people to contribute economically and socially. This is sound investment. What’s more, when disabled people are supported to contribute it benefits everyone. Disabled people start doing more grandparenting or going to work or getting involved in local community activity. Family members’ lives get better (and can we really base our economy on the assumption that more and more millions of people, usually women, give up work to support disabled and older relatives? Especially when Government says we need MORE people in the labour market). Finally Britain as a whole benefits – as disabled people become net contributors to our society.
RADAR urges ministers to face the fact that the system is already in crisis because it isn’t yet designed to support contribution. We need ‘social care’ reform based on a clear purpose. At present we have one part of Government that does apply independent living principles (as in the 2008 Independent Living Strategy), another that (separately) looks at the ‘costs of care’ and another that looks at the strategy for carers. We say, bring them all together under a common philosophy and invest in all our futures.
More specifically, we need rights to independent living support, rights to move home without the risk of losing vital daily support packages, and ratification of the ‘UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ to give the dignity and independence that every person deserves. So the announced consultation is a step in the right direction, Health Secretary Alan Johnson claims it will be a “proper debate”, but it needs to be more than a discussion, it needs to produce actions right across Government, rooted in a clear philosophy. Gordon Brown has hopes for a system that is “personal to individual needs, giving real control to those needing care and their carers; and that offers us all protection against the costs of care in old age or as a result of a disability”. Let’s hope that this can be implemented so that money is spent on what matters – enabling disabled and older people to be full citizens.