The adult social care system in England is reaching a crunch point. Like many developed economies across the globe, our population is growing and ageing. How and where these significant demographic changes are happening is critically important and represents a major policy challenge.
Our latest report, Facilitating Care Insight to Develop Caring Economies, explores the challenges, risks and opportunities local authorities face in the planning and management of adult social care provision. It is a wake-up call to policymakers that our country is ill-prepared to implement a new data-driven care model capable of meeting growing demand for support.
Our ageing population means that demand for support is fast out-stripping local authorities’ ability to commission and provide it against a backdrop of budget reductions and ongoing austerity measures. Too many people now have unmet needs, and those who do receive some form of support are often in receipt of a lower standard of care than we would want for ourselves and our families. The additional pressure being placed upon unpaid carers is also a matter of increasing concern.
These challenges are occurring in different ways and to different extents, in part, because local areas are underpinned by different ‘care infrastructures’ which are characterised by distinct strengths and weaknesses. As a result, a national approach to measuring commissioning and provider performance perpetuates standardised data collection which, in turn, fails to reflect but also make the most of local nuances – the better to design and iterate new models of care. Local differences result in a range of risks and opportunities across the public, private and independent sectors but, in particular, local authorities need to plan ahead and contemplate mitigation strategies – proactively investing in measures that reflect the strengths and weaknesses of differing care infrastructures.
Four local authorities helped inform our report recommendations which otherwise flow from an in-depth analysis of publicly available data undertaken by Cambridge Econometrics. Each of them highlighted the particular challenges they are grappling with at a local level and raised concerns, including: the under-reporting of care needs; how best to provide support for those with multiple or complex conditions; how to ensure the right support is in place for individuals living with a disability of one form or another; and the impact of deprivation on the level of support required in some places.
Our research revealed that local authorities lack sufficient insight into a lot of the issues they face because there are critical gaps in the data available, its granularity and the resources in place to analyse it. If we are to plan for new models of care to meet demand, central and local policy-makers must fund better data collection and analysis. New technologies and data techniques must also be embraced to support the evolution of next generation adult social care provision. Critically, councils need a much better understanding of when and how people interact with the wider care ecosystem, if they are to meet the future needs of the populations they serve, and the range of Government departments should be required to recognise the impact that their policies and investment decisions have upon local care infrastructures to ensure they are fit for purpose in future.
If we are to emphasise prevention, better facilitate healthy ageing and independent living, as well as deliver tangible improvements to the quality of peoples’ lives, the critically important role of data, together with differences in local ‘care infrastructures’, must be acknowledged at a national level in the Government’s Green Paper, then, acted upon as a matter of urgency.