There is currently a lot of talk about adult social care and the level of funding it receives. Clearly, more money is needed but I feel it is important that new monies are allocated in the most effective way, and that any ineffective or wasteful spending is reviewed. It is important that the national government and local authorities set the priorities with other stakeholders in an era of conflicting vested interests.
Social care for adults is a relevantly new and evolving concept that has moved from large service-led contracts towards meeting the needs and outcomes of individuals. It however remains complex to determine what levels of support people should receive to create a system that is fair to everyone, balancing entitlement with needs and outcomes.
If we now fast forward 30 years, leaving the current issues aside, let’s examine what social care could look like? The simple answer is that it could look like absolutely anything. Unlike health, education and collecting taxes, the demands and supply of social care is always changing. Care homes are a relevantly new invention that could easily disappear if the demand for this ceased. Improvements in health could change the game completely in ways we can not currently understand.
I think there are two factors that will play a big part of shaping social care; these are technology and public attitudes.
We live in a wondrous time where technology is increasing our opportunities and changing how we live at a speed previously unheard of. When you consider smartphones, tablets and smart watches have only existed for no more than a decade, and already started the collapse of print media and traditional television to name but a few consequences, you can see its impact.
This means technology could radically and quickly change the way social care is delivered in a manner we can not even begin to predict. Channel 4’s Humans have shown one future vision of social care, where human staff are replaced by synthetics. But it could be more subtle like the rise in online delivery services. Individual users are likely to drive the demand to use new technology, especially if it is delivered in a mainstream way.
Public attitudes towards using social care are likely to change as social care is normalised into the way many people live, especially in their ‘third age’. Currently, social care is delivered to users who seem happy to take up a passive role of dependency. Older people especially still fear challenging authority and appear grateful for anything they receive.
In 30 years, we will have a generation of older social care users with much higher expectations of what social care should deliver, and will be unwilling to accept poor service, having the skills to cause major trouble to those suppliers who mess them about. This generation is likely not to accept being patronised by their adult children, who will not be allowed to make decisions for them. This means a lot of current telecare solutions designed to check ‘if mum is okay’ are likely to find themselves smashed up and binned. For this internet savvy generation, social isolation is unlikely to be an issue for professionals to concern themselves with.
Potentially a lot of the current perceived youth issues like drug and alcohol abuse could become issues for this generation, radically challenging the notion of passive compliant users as social norms change. It is therefore important those responsible for future-proofing their services understand the needs of future users. Unfortunately, I fear a slow pace of change will create a disastrous mismatch between demand and supply.
The key to the future of social care is understanding it could easily change its shape beyond the control of anyone. Those who bank on one specific solution becoming and remaining top dog may end up being very disappointed.