In My View - Marcus on Social Care in Somerset

On Monday I was a guest of the BBC at a screening of a new Panorama programme about social care, airing next week, in which the story of care in Somerset is centre stage. I valued the chance afterwards to discuss the issues with leading names in the sector and it was useful to catch up with County Council leader David Fothergill and the local social care team.

What came across most clearly was how challenging being a carer, or relying on care, can be. Some experience financial strain but there is also the huge, loving time commitment for carers and little chance to take a break and refresh, even just to catch up on sleep. In particular it showed how carers are often just too exhausted to fight other battles such as problems with a care package or related benefits, or indeed want to contact their MP or talk about their situation.

Although I understand the reporting focus was to raise the emotional profile of what is undoubtedly a challenging issue for our nation, and I support that, it would perhaps have been good also to look at what MPs actually do to champion social care and it is something I spend a lot of time on. My team and I for instance help many families struggling to navigate the system or whose care packages are not working for some reason. We liaise with doctors, the council and third parties such as the Citizens’ Advice Bureau as well as supporting complaints to the Health Ombudsman and tribunal applications where appropriate.

In addition to individual casework, many MPs and certainly my neighbouring colleagues and I have lobbied hard for more funding in response to the pressures of previous county council budget reductions. While there is more to do, the Government announced at the 2018 Budget funding that includes £240 million in both 2018-19 and 2019-20 to support adult social care services that reduce pressures on the NHS, and £410 million more in Social Care Support Grant for adult and children’s social care more broadly.

Alongside the extra Adult Social Care council tax precept, this means councils will have been given access to £10 billion in dedicated funding for adult social care over the 3 years from 2017-18 to 2019-20. For 2019-20, local authorities will have access to £4.3 billion in dedicated adult social care resources.

We are awaiting a Government Green Paper of suggested policy for care but this has unfortunately been delayed, partly as the scope of issues is broader than initially thought. An exploration of ways to fund care for the elderly in their own homes was derailed at the 2017 election but the challenges remain. There are big questions about the sustainability of funding and intergenerational fairness, and insurance schemes and different ways of funding them will I think need to be considered, in addition to innovation and modernisation in how care is delivered. As one in four of us will need some sort of care, as we live longer and often manage a number of medical conditions, addressing these issues simply cannot be put off any further.