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Reflecting on 75 years of social care

From the National Assistance Act to the present day

2023 sees the 75th anniversary of the creation of both the social care system in England, Wales and Scotland and the NHS, and the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush. Over the next three months, we will be reflecting on the changes those 75 years have brought and on where the health and care system in England is now.

The National Assistance Act received Royal Assent on 13 May 1948 and came into force across England, Wales and Scotland on 5 July, bringing to an end more than 300 years of the Poor Laws. The Act aimed to provide publicly funded social care support to those who were ‘without resource’.

The Act forms the basis of the current social care system in England, with around 850,000 people accessing publicly funded long-term care in 2022. However, the sector faces challenges with public satisfaction with social care services at an all-time low, 165,000 workforce vacancies (in a workforce of about 1.5 million), and government promises of reform vanishing over the horizon.

Facts and figures about social care

  • A history of social care funding reform in England: 1948 to 2023

    Support from the state for adult social care is reserved for those with both the highest level of need, and the lowest means. We outline the history of the past 22 years of attempts to r...

  • Key facts and figures about adult social care

    What is social care? How many people deliver social care? How much does social care cost individuals and the state? We answer some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about...

  • Social care nutshell chart

    Social care in a nutshell

    Currently, unlike NHS services, social care is not free at the point of use. Find out who is eligible for publicly funded social care, how many people have requested support, and how ma...

  • Line chart

    International recruitment in adult social care

    With record vacancies in adult social care, the international workforce is more vital than ever for the sector to function. It is essential that issues around pay, conditions and other f...

Our social care blog series

  • Why we should celebrate the birth of social care (but not too much)

    The 1948 National Assistance Act was the foundation of modern social care but also created issues that last to this day, says Simon Bottery, in the first of a series of blogs marking the...

  • Making independent living a reality for disabled people

    As part of our series of blogs reflecting on 75 years of the social care system, Anne Pridmore reflects on the challenges and possibilities for disabled people who organise their own car...

  • Social care matters to us all

    Covid-19 changed the social care sector for ever. Vic Rayner details how the pandemic changed the sector and public perceptions of care and asks whether some good can emerge from the rav...

  • Why we need a new ‘Beveridge moment’ for social care in the 21st century

    As we mark the 75th anniversary of the National Assistance Act, David Behan considers impact of Beveridge on the development of social care in the UK, and calls for a new social contract...

Listen to and watch

  • Bite-sized social care: What is social care?

    This is the first video in our 'Bite-sized social care' series intended to help explain social care in England. In this one we look at what adult social care consists of, the responsibil...

  • How do you solve a problem like social care funding?

    Social care funding reform is firmly back on the political agenda. Helen McKenna speaks with Sir Andrew Dilnot, Emily Holzhausen and Sally Warren, about why reform has proved so challen...