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I speak from the experience of having run adult social care services in a community centre for the last three years in Battersea and of being a serving councillor in Wandsworth Borough Council. I want to explain something that may have been missing from the debate up to now and make the case for community services as part of our social care system.
The social care system is in crisis, as Members on both sides of the House have acknowledged. People across Putney, Roehampton and Southfields raise this with me all the time and many people who do not raise it with me, I know, are suffering in silence, trying to find the care that they need or that their adult child, family member, friend or parent needs. The social isolation of elderly people and adults who need additional support is increasing while care services are decreasing. Last year, there were 1.32 million new requests for social care, only half of which resulted in a service being provided. For the other half, nothing was provided or they were signposted elsewhere, often to overstretched community services.
A national care service is needed that joins up health services, social care and community services as a third but essential pillar of this, bringing us together. I agree that we must do it by working together, as has been mentioned, but we must build stronger communities and work together for the good of all. It has been so frustrating to run older people’s services for the last three years while, all around us, it felt like the council-run services were decreasing and the health services and the NHS were providing less and less. We were being left to pick up the pieces yet we were not being provided with either the funding or the way of organising our care service that enabled us to do that.
Across the country, funding for council’s adult care services has dropped by 50% in the last 10 years since the Tories came into power. The whole system is so disjointed that it is really hard to function within it. Community organisations, staff and volunteers spend lots of time chasing services and making relationships with different professionals and organisations who then move on, and we have to start all over again. There urgently needs to be a plan that joins up the NHS, social care and the voluntary sector. This is about funding, but there needs to be far more—it is about organisation and putting adults, the elderly and their needs at the centre of the decisions that we make, rather than organising to make things easier.
Too often, as I said, the voluntary sector is picking up the pieces. Fantastic local organisations such as the one that I worked in, the Katherine Low Settlement, but also Putney-based Regenerate-RISE and the over-60s lunch club—I am sure that hon. Members know of many in their constituencies—are providing long-term support, not piecemeal support. There is an understanding of people’s whole community, including their family, their friends, and who is caring for them, as well as a much quicker speed of response, which really understands the changing needs of the vulnerable in our society. They are also great value for money.
Too often, however, the voluntary sector is not even mentioned in a debate such as this. It is treated as the last on the list and as not being professional. It is often treated with disrespect, whereas from my experience, community services are often on the cutting edge of care for adults with special needs and the elderly. We can learn a lot from such services and they need to be part of the plan that we hopefully will create.
Community services can respond really quickly. Assessments by social services often take months and in that time, an elderly person’s health can deteriorate because they are not getting the care they need. That can end up being a greater burden to the local authority than if support had been put in place earlier, and it can lead to a prolonged stay in hospital.
Last year, 2,000 people died every day while waiting for a decision on their application for social care—it is almost unbelievable. The provision of care for older people is diminishing and the problem of older people living longer is growing. The number of residential and nursing home beds has fallen in every region of England in the last five years. For instance, the care for people with dementia—that long-term, increasing and changing support—is often best provided by community care services. Social workers often change their roles frequently, so older people are faced with people they do not know and who do not understand their situation, whereas community services can provide long-term continuity and culturally appropriate care.
I pay tribute to all the social workers and careworkers across the country who do amazing, selfless and dedicated work and yet are not valued. As has been said, there must be a new system of pay, training and qualification that values our careworkers, who are too low paid but certainly not low skilled. I also pay tribute to the 6.5 million unpaid carers. Often, the only support they receive is from community services, and it is that which enables them to support the people they are caring for. By co-commissioning with health, social care and the voluntary sector, we could give people the best chance of staying at home and not going into care. We need a national care service that places equal value on community social care services alongside health and social care. We need better ways of working, better funding and, ultimately, a better quality of life for everyone.