The future of adult social care

On 14 July the government published a green paper on adult social care, Shaping the Future of Care Together. This followed a fairly lengthy consultation process, now followed by a consultation on the paper, which the government has called the Big Care Debate. See this summary from Community Care for an overview of the proposals. The outcome will have implications for all organisations delivering social care services to adults, or supporting those accessing these services (including organisations working with older people – see our dedicated section on drivers for these organisations).

The consultation takes place against the background of a number of important drivers, including:

Constrained public finances

The large increases in public spending over the last decade have come to an end as future governments will be forced to rebalance the public sector balance sheet by slowing down public expenditure. Labour still talks about growth, though at lower levels than previously, while the Conservatives argue that the priority is to address the high levels of debt through ‘a new culture of thrift in government’.

An ageing population

Life expectancy in the UK is rising and birth rates are falling, leading to an ageing population. Demand for health services and long term care will increase, creating a challenge not only for the funding of public services but also for informal carers such as family and friends. Debates on whether welfare gains for one age group (ie, older people) come at the expense of another (ie, workers) are likely to develop, particularly as the political power of older people increases.

Changing support structures

Household structures are changing with family sizes generally decreasing. The biggest change is the increase in single-person households. This is due to a rise in divorce rates, lone parents, elderly women outliving men and an increase in young professionals living alone. People are relocating more often and are less likely to live near their families, and are therefore increasingly reliant on friends for support; this is particularly significant amongst young people. Weaker family ties mean there is a risk that people fall through gaps in support provision and the VCS may increasingly be expected to provide support that the family would previously have delivered and the state cannot afford.

The increasing role of the sector in delivering public services

Bringing markets into public services, or 'contestability', has been a key way for the government to open up public services to a more diverse range of suppliers and is seen by government as a way of improving services and driving innovation. As VCOs have taken on public services, there has been an increasing blurring of boundaries between the sectors, and in some cases hybrid organisations have developed. In light of constrained public finances, more competition (with the potential for the private sector to move into new areas) and an ever greater focus on efficiency and value for money are highly likely.

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Put together these drivers translate as greater need + reduced resources = a number of possible responses, each of which will present new challenges to be navigated in the future.

Last updated at 15:24 Fri 17/Jul/09.
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