Tom Wright: Can social care survive on the breadline?


Tom Wright

Speaking at our breakfast event on 15 September 2016, Tom Wright outlines the findings from the Richmond Group of Charities' report, Real Lives.


Thank you for the opportunity to introduce Real Lives to you this morning. And we were delighted as the Richmond Group of Charities and our partners to commission The King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust, to produce this, to illustrate the state of social care through the eyes of the individuals and families which of course are most important. And I think over recent years we have become used to the headlines around the problems in the systems.  Huge budget cuts, service closures, care businesses going under.  But it is easy to forget that there are hundreds and thousands of older, and disabled people, and their families who ultimately pay the price of this.  And of course the care staff who do such vitally important work on the ground.  Now we wanted to give individual service users, and their carers, a voice in this hugely important debate, and make sure the reality of what it means to depend on a system that is often failing the people it is meant to serve.

Now as you have heard from Richard, the scale of the problems across the care system are now pretty plain to us all. The home truth estimates that cuts to local authority budgets has seen 26% fewer older people getting care. And indeed at Age UK, we now estimate one million, that is one million older people alone, who need care and support, but don’t get the help they need to from either formal or informal sources.  And that has gone up significantly in recent years.  Our work also shows, it is the type of services that support carers, and help people remain well, and in their home, that have been hardest hit by the cuts, just the thing that we want to avoid.  And although today’s report focuses on the experience of those aged over 65, we know this is something that impacts people of all ages across all conditions.  And another member of the Richmond Group, Macmillan, has found that only one in five people with cancer receive any kind of formal support despite double that number having serious enough needs to be eligible.

So there is no doubt that things are reaching a crisis point for the people that we represent within the Richmond Group. As a group we are hearing from people of all ages about the problems they are experiencing accessing help, and getting consistently good quality care. And our Real Lives report tells the individual stories behind the numbers and headlines to bring home the true nature and scale of the crisis.  A very quick few examples for people like Susan and the uphill battle that she has faced to get sufficient good quality help to care for her husband Bruce who is living with dementia and Parkinson’s disease.  We need to ask some serious questions when a system that should be designed to help reduces caring individuals to lying on the sofa wondering how they are going to cope with the rest of the day.  Our interviews describe time and time again a lack of co-ordination between services, battles to get help, the inflexibility of the system, and the huge variability across the country between good and bad, yet a sense of limited control over what people get.

So overall there is an underlying stress of dealing with an uncertain future for themselves, or their loved ones. The impact of an unstable system isn’t just an abstract problem for the people we interviewed. Robert has received care from hundreds of carers, from eight to nine different agencies since the first of two severe strokes some 13 years ago.  Something he describes as making him feel very badly handicapped.  Overall, as these two reports make clear, six consecutive years of budget restrictions, growing demand are all creating a perfect storm.  So unless action is taken now, more and more individuals, their families and carers as represented in our Real Lives report, are going to find themselves struggling with a system unfit and unable to provide the help that they need.  Thank you.

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