Sometimes I wonder as I write these blogs if I am beginning to sound like a stuck record; the issue of funding – or more accurately, the lack of it – seems to crop up at some point in the majority of pieces I post.
But I make no apology for this. Funding is arguably the most important issue within social care at the moment.
While providing outcomes for service users should be the number one priority – and I’m willing to bet that, on the record, any politician or director of services worth their salt will argue that it is – I suspect that how social care is paid for is exercising them more.
For quite some time now, directors of adult and children’s services have accepted the fact that they will have to do more with less money in the coming years.
Now, many are starting to find out how much less they have; for example, Cambridgeshire County Council has announced that the adult social care budget for 2010/11 is being slashed by £10.3 million, as the council looks to save £88 million in total.
They are not alone; many councils across the UK are having to make similar size cuts, with the resulting risk to certain services – often those at the less critical end, such as meals on wheels.
In addition, the government’s free personal care at home plan is causing much concern within town halls. While few argue with the aim of the policy, many feel it simply cannot be paid for, especially as it is generally felt that Labour has significantly underestimated how much it will cost.
Cllr Graham Gibbens, cabinet member for Kent adult social services, as quoted on kentnews.co.uk, said: “In an ideal world, we would wish to give free personal care at home to as many elderly people as possible. However, it is simply not affordable, particularly since we are in the throes of a debt crisis.”
Gibbens’ quote neatly sums up the current reality of social care. In a recession, idealism counts for little; money influences all conversations now, and will do for some time to come, regardless of who wins the upcoming election.
Now, it is up to commissioners, providers and social care staff across the sector to accept this and work within these financial parameters to ensure the money available is used to the greatest effect.
It is a significant challenge, but one that they have no option but to rise to. It may force commissioners to be more innovative in their thinking, and providers to ensure they deliver value for money, but they have no option.