For most people, social care is easy to ignore. The majority of us won’t need it. We have a very limited understanding of how it’s funded – many think it’s part of the NHS – and most of us haven’t planned for future social care provision.
That makes the crisis even more difficult for politicians to fix. It’s rarely top of the political agenda, and an appetite for raising taxation or overhauling local authority funding to suit England’s minority of service users is lacking.
This is why it’s important to understand exactly who social care is for. Despite the stock footage or pictures of old people’s homes that usually accompany reports on the subject, this isn’t just about the elderly. Nearly half of all public social care spending goes on working-age people. And the proportion of working-age adults requesting social care support from local authorities had grown by nearly 4 per cent since 2015/16, according to the Kings Fund.
We already know social care demand will increase with an ageing population, but the public debate is less clear on why the proportion of working-age adults with social care needs is rising.
Here’s an explanation, heavily indebted to Disability Rights UK researcher Evan Odell, who emailed me after we asked the question on the New Statesman podcast. Working-age social care demand is rising and will continue to rise partly because of an increase in the life expectancy of people with learning disabilities on a par with those without. (According to Odell, 70.9 per cent of the long-term working-age social care budget goes on learning disability support.)
Related to this, an increasing number of people with learning disabilities will outlive their parents, or will still be around when their parents are no longer able to care for them; this means increased need for state provision.
Working-age social care needs are also rising owing to advances in medical treatment, which are saving people from dying of injuries, illnesses and genetic conditions – but also leaving them in need of long-term care.
With this knowledge, we cannot dismiss the social care crisis as something that may or may not affect us simply in old age. And politicians now have a chance to make the case for funding social care through general taxation – rather than pretending it only affects older people and trying to tie taxes to inheritance or people’s estates (unpopular policy proposals that have fallen flat in the past). If only they would hurry up and make it.
With thanks to Evan Odell, who tweets @evanodell.