Changing the social care narrative

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Annie Gunner Logan flies the flag for the social care sector

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17th August 2018 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

These days, whenever the term social care hits the headlines, the word crisis is usually right there alongside it. Have a quick search on Google News and you’ll see what I mean.

Now I’m not averse to playing the doom-monger when the occasion demands, but to my mind, the idea that social care is altogether broken is more than a little wide of the mark.

Annie Gunner Logan

Annie Gunner Logan

The terms of reference for our sector are out of date. What we provide isn’t voluntary and it certainly doesn’t come third.

Last month, Fair Deal tweeted about their top-notch Care Inspectorate gradings; the Action Group were similarly celebrating. Organisations in our sector habitually outshine their private and public counterparts in such matters, as well as in awards ceremonies and accreditations, out of all proportion to our market share.

Achieving such exceptional performance in these straitened times is remarkable. But many sector leaders have begun to worry that they may be approaching a tipping point, beyond which excellence in care and support becomes unsustainable.

Some are already there: witness Bield’s decision to close its care homes. Certain politicians have preferred to pillory the organisation rather than to address the system to which it is responding – which, as I’ve said before, is like tripping someone up, and then blaming them for falling over.

In a successful social care system, responsibilities would be shared and collaboration prioritised. Yet we’re now witnessing a huge transfer of risk to our sector. One of the more spectacular examples can be seen in the imposition of rigid contractual requirements on providers to pay the living wage, without any corresponding obligation on the purchasing authority to resource it.

When you combine these behaviours with the glacially slow advance of self-directed support and the continuing treatment of our sector as a second-class citizen in the integration project, well, it’s no surprise that something’s gotta give.

TFN readers will be familiar with some of the responses to these challenges, including those being taken forward by Cornerstone, Quarriers, Enable and Sense Scotland. Many other lower-profile developments are in train, right across the country, as organisations size up the different ways in which they can better match ambition to available resources.

But it’s not always possible. Like Bield, more and more organisations are reluctantly concluding that some service contracts are simply not viable; worse, that keeping them on risks bringing down the whole organisation. So they are – with huge regret – walking away.

So what’s the answer to such market failure? Some want to revert to 100% direct council delivery. Others call for higher taxes. A colleague of mine recently heard a senior public official say, in all seriousness, that we need “more responsible communities.” Sans commentaire, as they say in France.

I doubt if positive action will be taken in any direction unless we bring about a shift in the narrative around our sector. We employ north of 60,000 people in care and support, and manage a combined total annual income of well over £ 1billion. By anybody’s standards, we’re a major economic force.

So why is social care, and its highest-quality providers, generally perceived as a drain on the economy, rather than a contributor to it? Money spent on the NHS is characterised as an investment; social care is a cost.

Look at the expansion of early learning and childcare: that’s cast as creating quality jobs, getting women back into the labour market, and investing in children. Why don’t we talk this way about social care?

The terms of reference for our sector are out of date. What we provide isn’t voluntary and it certainly doesn’t come third.

It’s the economy, stupid. And we’re the social economy. Time to start talking ourselves up.

Annie Gunner Logan is chief executive of the Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland.