The Social Care White Paper… and a Christmas tree

The government has been careful to describe the Social Care White Paper, ‘People at the Heart of Care,’ as the start of a journey, as putting the foundations for an ambitious and resilient care sector in place.

There are things to like about the White Paper. And because it’s Christmas, the analogy of the day is going to be Christmas trees:

We like the way government has framed its beliefs and ambitions around social care. The White Paper emphasises that care should be person centred. That commissioners should focus on wide-ranging measures designed to prevent people needing care for as long as possible. That people should be supported to live at home. We love, too, that what care should look like has been framed as a set of ‘I’ statements. The tone of this White Paper is helpful. It is about doing ‘with’ people not ‘to’ them. And for all these reasons, our Christmas tree feels pretty robust. It has a nice strong trunk.

A number of stout branches emerge from this trunk. Investment in supported housing. CQC regulation of local authority commissioning practices. A national training and development framework and register for care workers. And a commitment to advancing care tech without depersonalising care. We see these things as very positive moves.

Some of the important decorations haven’t changed. There’s a renewed commitment to CASSH (specialist housing) funding and to the Disabled Facilities Grant, both of which had been due to expire. And recommitment to a national care data strategy.

There’s one or two new baubles dangling off the White Paper’s branches, too. A particular favourite of ours is the promised investment in supported employment alongside increased Access to Work funding.

But… you know how hard it is to get your Christmas tree straight when using a bucket and bricks? So it is with this White Paper. In failing to address support worker pay, in failing to address years of underfunding for local authority adult social care budgets, in failing to address the Transforming Care agenda in any way, government is balancing our social care Christmas tree on the ground and hoping against hope it stays up all by itself.

On which note, there is still hope. The Local Authority Settlement (due for announcement later this month) could just be the vehicle through which government meets the LGA’s assessment that £10.1bn is required to save Adult Social Care – and recommits to funding from the Social Care levy transitioning to social care after 3 years. And a second White Paper, on Health and Social Care integration, could potentially deal with the workforce pay by setting social care workers on NHS employment bands. Perhaps our Social Care Christmas tree will grow a branch that joins on to the NHS Christmas tree. Perhaps its decorations will stretch across. (Perhaps this analogy has gone too far – Ed.)

Introducing the White Paper, Care Minister Gillian Keegan told MPs that a 30% churn rate for care worker was unsustainable. She’s certainly got that right. (Some Providers, including Dimensions, do markedly better than this average. Find out why.) But a centralised approach to training isn’t going to change the average figure. Unless we deal with the issue of pay, now, the White Paper will become yet another white elephant. And no-one wants one of those under their tree (Stop it, now – Ed.)