Is there a crisis in social care?

A University of Wales conference will try to find out how austerity and health policy implications are affecting social care, by Gideon Calder

Carers have rarely been so much in the spotlight. But the attention they’re receiving is mostly not for happy reasons. For care might seem to be in various kinds of crisis.

Something which has always been true – that unpaid care work supports the economy in vital, unrecognised ways – now seems more urgently so than ever. Austerity measures are biting hard on social services. Many carers are risking their own financial security in order to care for family members.

The system – both statutory, and voluntary – seems stretched so far that something, soon, might have to give. “It is not alarmist,” said Richard Humphries of the King’s Fund this July, “to warn of an impending crisis in social care”

But is that crisis coming? Where are things really at? Are things so different from the ways they’ve always been? And are they hopelessly drastic? Might social care be heading for collapse, with all the knock-on effects which this will bring for the health service, the wider social fabric, and the lives of individual families?

A conference on 2 November at the University of Wales, Newport will put these questions on the table, and explore them from different angles. The question “is there a crisis in social care?” will be addressed in terms of older people, disability, the value of dignity, current policy in Cardiff and Westminster, and the most localised, intimate contexts of caring work.

The conference seeks not just to raise these questions, but to move beyond them into solutions.

It’ll do this by focusing both on the experiences of carers, and the implications of policy. And it will do this by including carers and service-users at the heart of the discussions.

The everyday details of the landscape of care are often obscured when viewed from afar. But they seem vital to explore. The impact of cuts, personalisation and citizen-directed support, independent living, ways of making difficult decisions, prospects for the future – each of these and more will be discussed.

Workshops will be led by service users and carers. There will be a focus on Wales, but an acknowledgement that these issues ‘travel’. It will also discuss the rights of carers, costs they face, and the ways in which they might gain a louder voice, and also challenges faced by the public and voluntary sectors.

The conference is co-organised by the Bevan Foundation (a charity thinktank working for social justice in Wales) and the Social Ethics Research Group at the University of Wales, Newport. It is aimed at carers, service users, campaigners and researchers, students, and anyone with an interest in current policy and practice in social care.

Gideon Calder is director of the social ethics research group at the University of Wales in Newport.