Money is essential for social care, but we also have to change the way we spend it

Money is essential for social care, but we also have to change the way we spend it

Forget the political grandstanding, social care isn’t getting the cash it deserves. But when it comes aren’t there ways to spend it better? asks Clare Morris

When you think about your future, perhaps your later years, you probably imagine yourself surrounded by the people, places and things that matter most to you. It’s what most of us want: to hold on to our independence and identity as we grow older, within our families, our homes and our communities.

The debate around our society’s provision for social care is regularly reduced to a single question: ‘Will you have to sell your home to pay for residential care?’ In reality most care is informal. Most people look after themselves most of the time, and social care – which is currently only available to the most needy and impoverished – is a kind of safety net that offers support as people’s needs evolve. 

We would all want this service to be agile, discreet and well-fitted, wrapping around us to preserve our dignity and independence; implemented quickly to address needs as they arise and help prevent escalation of issues, and able to be scaled back when people are coping pretty well. It very often isn’t.

If you’ve been following the politics around social care, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that adequate and ongoing funding is the last piece in the puzzle to improving services. Well yes, money is essential and very welcome, but unless we change the way we spend it we’ll never fill the gap between people’s needs, aspirations and growing demand, and the funding (and workforce) that’s available.

Ambition can sound like a grand principle for such a chronically underfunded, understaffed and over-stretched sector, but many of us know we need to think big to help people live better for longer. 

There’s a real opportunity to transform social care into a joined up, intuitive and even cost-effective service built around the individual. How? We believe an essential part of this will be to deploy the kind of empowering tech most of us take for granted in our day-to-day lives. We all know the transformation iPhones, Alexa and home hubs have brought to our lives, and that’s just the visible stuff.

Lift the lid on modern life and there are endless intuitive technologies, applications of AI and data learnings that keep us connected to our loved ones, make our working and leisure time more fulfilling, and help us around the house.

The presence of care professionals is often viewed as the beginning and end of social care delivery, but many older adults prefer the independence, choice and privacy that digital care devices give them. The data that can be collected is even more crucial in building care packages that truly meet individuals’ needs. Digital technologies both present and future could be transformative when applied to the challenges facing social care. Some councils are already being progressive and ambitious – but this work takes creativity, risk-taking, collaborative partnerships, and ambition, as well as the investment of cash (although when compared to the costs of care, investing in technology can look like an incredibly good deal – for everyone).

So what does that look like? In the absence of adequate funding local authorities have inevitably become risk averse, leaning heavily on tried-and-trusted solutions rather than evolving their offer to grasp the opportunities of the digital age. Excellent work has been going on despite lack of resources, but secure funding could give more councils the confidence to aim higher and commission services more boldly. 

The much-vaunted rescue fund for social care won’t go far, but there’s an opportunity for players in the sector to help each other better, with councils prototyping new services blended with or even replaced by technology and sharing their failures as well as their successes. 

In all, interrogating every new opportunity to deliver the kind of care we can all feel good about.

About Clare Morris
Clare Morris is a former NHS leader and co-founder of Rethink Partners, working with health and care organisations to visualise and implement change for good.