Social care sector fragmented and must ‘come together’ to secure future funding – Adass

The social care sector has been too fragmented and must come together to “pool our forces” if it is to secure the funding and change needed for its future, the national children and adult services conference has heard.

There is a “daily struggle” among leaders in the sector “to keep the adult social care show on the road”, Beverley Tarka said, but she also struck a cautiously optimistic note that things were improving.

The president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) addressed attendees in Bournemouth on Wednesday as the three-day conference opened.

Ms Tarka (pictured) said: “Maybe part of the reason why social care hasn’t secured either that funding or that change for the past 25 years – and is still not seen by policymakers as a core public service – is that we have been too fragmented. We need to come together, as commissioners, providers, people who draw on services and carers, to pool our forces.”

She said while progress had been slow, efforts by Adass with others to “foster real, bottom-up innovation from the grass roots” were starting to show results.

Staffing remained the top issue for the sector, she said, giving a “warm welcome” for work by Skills for Care – the strategic workforce development and planning body for adult social care in England – to look at a strategy which she said was happening “in the absence of any lead from Government” and would be based on a model of collaborative working.

She said: “Workforce is of course the priority issue for the sector and it feels as if this project just might help shape policy after the next election.”

While she lamented a lack of mention of social care in last week’s autumn statement, she said she hoped Chancellor Jeremy Hunt remained mindful of the sector’s needs given his past as health and social care secretary and chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee.

Praising some Government help of late, she welcomed winter investment which “arrived pleasingly early” and said she felt there were indications ministers were beginning to understand the need for prevention – referring to her certainty that the dominant narrative around social care must be shifted to a focus on prevention.

She said: “Is this message getting through? Well, last week’s autumn statement might suggest not. But I think I detect indications that Whitehall is starting to ‘get’ prevention.

“This year’s winter funding arrived pleasingly early, enabling us to make considered decisions about its spending rather than the customary helter-skelter against an impossible deadline.”

She also welcomed money for projects for unpaid carers and noted more invites to meetings in recent times “about keeping people out of hospital and out of residential care”.

On Mr Hunt, she added: “Despite this year’s autumn statement, it would be nice to think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer hasn’t forgotten all the positive things he said about social care, and the case for investing in it, when he was chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee.”

On the future, Ms Tarka said a big challenge would be to “continue to make the economic case for social care”, the value of which she said was “blindingly obvious” to those involved in the sector.

She added: “We have been slow to make a robust case for social care, one that would get the Treasury to give it more than a second glance.”

Ms Tarka noted further efforts by Skills for Care on producing a report on the social and economic case, for publication by next summer.

As part of a mission to raise public awareness of social care, especially in the run-up to the general election, Ms Tarka said Adass would run a campaign “to demonstrate the breadth and diversity of care and support”.

She also spoke of a focus on unpaid carers, pushing for more improvements including more personalised support as well as moving from unpaid to paid leave for carers.

On the future for social care more generally, she said: “Of course, our task is formidable and the road ahead is uncertain and challenging, to say the least.

“But I feel cautiously optimistic that we will be in a still better place at the end of my second half – even if the sunlit uplands may remain just out of sight.”

Social Care minister Helen Whately is due to appear at the conference on Thursday, while NHS England boss Amanda Pritchard and Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman are due to speak in separate sessions on Friday.

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