Cllr Barry Rawlings, Leader of the Barnet Labour Group
Particularly since the pandemic, public attention to social care has focussed on the fragility and impoverishment of the major services, residential and domiciliary care, that provide the direct care and support to older and disabled people. However, less visible is the beating heart of social care, which is the way councils identify need, plan support and allocate resources. This is the process that determines the fate of each individual.
Over the past 18 months, as the Labour opposition to a Tory controlled Council, we have been forensically testing how that system works. We have found its nothing like the claims being made for it. We have been giving a great deal of thought to what is wrong and how it can be put right. We have come to a number of key conclusions.
The first conclusion is that the UN definition of Independent Living is beyond question the right vision for social care. We believe all Barnet residents who rely on social care, whether in their own home or living communally, should have control over their lives with ‘choices equal to others’ with ‘full inclusion and participation in the community’.
We have to make this a practical reality, not just a pipe dream and not just yet more rhetoric. This means addressing the resource question. So, our second key conclusion is that the UN approach to the resource consequences is also the right one. States are not expected to have all the resources immediately available but are expected to take ‘concrete steps’ to embark on a process of ‘progressive realisation’ of the resources required.
So, instead we are looking at the feasibility of a new model of working. That model is:
- First: To empower our social workers to work in real partnership with our service users to identify and cost all their needs for Independent Living.
- Second: To put a stop to the miserable, minimalist ‘eligibility’ practices.
- Third: To ask budget holders to be transparent about what their budgets can afford and what they cannot.
- Fourth: To expect the Director to explain what is needed for all to have Independent Living, not to reduce ‘need’ to whatever budget is provided.
- And then to do everything in our power to secure the resources required by using the evidence we have gathered to ask Government for the funds Barnet needs.
That brings me to our third key conclusion. The Care Act already provides the primary legislation to make this happen. Its central concept of wellbeing has 9 dimensions. They include dignity, respect and control over one’s life and services. You couldn’t put a cigarette paper between this and the UN definition of Independent Living. The Act also has provisions that enable councils to be honest about what they can and cannot afford. It also requires councils to actively find out what resources are required to meet all needs in the communities they serve.
Our fourth key conclusion is that none of these transformative provisions are being enacted by Barnet Council. Barnet like all Councils, maintain they deliver the national template. All the Care Act has done is provide new language for the same old practices that demean service users by telling them what their needs are, and then defining ‘need’ to suit their budgets.
Our fifth conclusion is that the problem lies with the secondary legislation – the Statutory Guidance and Regulations. These are the responsibility of Government, not Parliament. They have been constructed in a way that allows councils to by-pass key provisions of the Care Act and focus on eligibility rather than wellbeing. These practices serve the political expedients of controlling spend to budget while delivering the political convenience of denying the existence of any unmet need.
None of this is the fault of local authorities or their social care staff. Social workers do their best to squeeze as much out of the system as they can for individuals, but it’s a zero-sum game and there are always winners and losers. This is the inbuilt inequity of the system.
This is an issue that affects all councils, as all will be applying the Statutory Guidance and Regulations. If there is a party-political criticism of the Barnet administration, it is in the enthusiasm with which they embrace the status quo. They have used it to drive spending down in Barnet to the point where they boast about being one of the lowest spending councils in the country, and by a long way.
The Guidance and Regulations must change. They must make Independent Living the standard of wellbeing for all, require councils to deliver the spirit and letter of the Care Act, to report on unmet needs and require central and local Government to do all in their power to secure the resources required to minimise, if not eliminate, unmet need. Local authority social care practices will need to be re-purposed top to bottom. I believe these changes would comprise the ‘concrete steps’ toward ‘progressive realisation’ the UN expects. The UN gave a damning verdict of the UK’s delivery of Independent Living in 2017.
With real co-production at the heart of needs assessments, as proposed in this new model, we might achieve better health and wellbeing outcomes which will actually save money in the long-term.
And in the process the narrative will cease to be the dead end of how much money ‘social care’ requires. It attracts little enduring public sympathy. We should promote equivalence in the public mind between best possible wellbeing, which social care delivers, and best possible health of mind and body, which the NHS delivers.
So, given that ‘adopting into English Law Articles from the UN Convention’ potentially includes changes to the secondary legislation to bring the Care Act to life, I fervently hope the SHA/KONP campaign has the greatest possible impact.