Opinion

Social care is on its knees. It's no wonder public dissatisfaction is at a record high

Evan John, policy and public affairs advisor at national disability charity Sense, writes about the state of the social care system

social care

Care workers provide support for people with varying needs. Image: Pexels

The social care system is in desperate need of help. After years of chronic underfunding, under-resourcing and understaffing, we’re now in a position where satisfaction rates for social care are on the floor.

New research released Wednesday (27 March) by the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust finds just 13% of people are satisfied with their experiences of the social care system. That is close to half of the level for the NHS (24%) – which is itself the lowest NHS satisfaction rate on record. By comparison 34% of people are satisfied with GP services, 24% dentistry and 31% A&E, so social care satisfaction rates are really lagging.

The system provides vital services to help disabled people, as well as older people and others, to lead healthy, happy lives. But for generations the government has viewed it as the Cinderella service to the NHS – undervalued and under-appreciated. It’s not hyperbole to describe the social care system as entirely on its knees.

Unlike the NHS, social care is not free. While a small number of disabled people get their social care funded by the NHS, most disabled people who use social care will have to pay for at least part of it. This is true even if all your income comes from benefits.

Benefits are already too low. Last year, Sense research found that over three quarters (76%) of people with complex disabilities in receipt of benefits are worried about how they will financially cope over the winter months. It is not right that social care costs leave disabled people with even less money to spend on the things they need to lead independent and meaningful lives.

And it’s not just about the cost of care – it’s also the fact not enough people can get the care they need in the first place. Local authority budgets are increasingly under pressure, and more and more people are seeing their social care support cut as a result. Research from national disability charity Sense found a quarter of people with complex disabilities who use social care had their provision cut last year. This is putting even more pressure on family carers, many of who are already burnt-out and exhausted. But there’s no alternative.

Workforce is a big issue. With not enough cash to go around, there are serious staff shortages in the sector and that is having a devastating impact on the care available. Sense’s research shows nearly a third of people with complex disabilities who receive social care (31%) have first-hand experience of these staff shortages.

These problems are not going away. The government’s approach to solving them has so far been characterised by half-baked policies that tinker round the edges but don’t get to the heart of the issue. Little of what the government has done has addressed the challenges faced by working-age disabled people. The system is crumbling and it’s vital that the government increases its budget substantially and makes a fully-funded social care workforce plan, so that disabled people can access the care they need and deserve.

Evan John is policy and public affairs advisor at national disability charity Sense.

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