Adult social care is ready to help plan its future

The time is ripe to reform adult social care and the Association of Directors of Social Services (Adass) is ready to play its part. By Peter Hay

Freedom from anxiety and undignified treatment. Freedom from financial insecurity in old age. Freedom from a lack of clarity about the social care system. These are three key guarantees the Association of Directors of Social Services (Adass) wants to make to all older people and vulnerable adults in England. That is the offer we in social services are making: and in return we seek a structure and funding regime which will enable us to fulfil our side of the bargain.

We accept that it’s our job to create and shape the conditions and the argument for reform – just as it’s our job to offer tools and possible solutions to the problem of improving outcomes and transforming our sector ahead of reform. We are more than ready not just to engage, although it is a privilege to have been asked to contribute to the government’s engagement process. We are also very keen to complete the journey. It is for others to
answer whether they choose to back the ripeness of the moment by honouring the promise of resources and reform.

From Wanless to Dilnot there has been a gap in the resources needed for social care. There are plenty of arguments about the size of the gap, but no one denies its existence. As the government pulls together its responses on funding care to accompany next spring’s white paper, it will need to address that gap.

Integration with the NHS, without considering a modern base to the resources across care and health, will be fatally flawed. We simply cannot any longer bypass the transforming nature and values of social care. And if we try to, we will inevitably face forces like that exposed at Winterbourne View. In this case clear public policy was made a nonsense of by commissioning care from hospitals built by the private sector on industrial estates. The appalling consequences will need to be addressed by learning from the range of reviews now underway. But I hope that part of that learning will be to address the apparent need to consider the consequences incurred when social care goes missing.

In view of this, the whole sorry saga of Southern Cross and the decision by Adass to publish step-by-step changes to its ownership, our sector must move towards far greater transparency in its relationship with the public and professionals alike. We will now work with the new businesses replacing Southern Cross as they join this sector-led world on the same terms as all others. Those new providers must pay particular attention to their need to address the chronic uncertainty of residents and carers that may otherwise undermine their business.

Our best advice is to embrace a culture of transparency, a value that we must also hold dear where we report on our performance. We would all do well to remember that where secrecy thrives, the abuse of power against vulnerable people is made possible – from Ashworth 20 years ago to Winterbourne View this year.

Attempts to reform our care system will not fail because local government and social care stepped back from transforming themselves. But we cannot complete the journey alone. We fully accept our leadership role in building this new offer to get the best outcomes for people in the places we serve.

But we do so in the certain knowledge that ripeness is all – and that the time is now.

Peter Hay is president of Adass. This is an edited version of his keynote speech to last week’s National Children and Adult Services conference.