Vicky is MD at Boilerhouse Communications and programme director for both the Better Connected Programme and the Connected Care Programme@vickysargent
In their report "Older People’s Care Survey" the Family and Childcare Trust says that local authorities should now include the cost of care home and home care fees for such care as is available locally. Don't hold your breath.
Copyright Image: Old People Everywhere – Senior Parking by HomeAndGardners.com
Early in the New Year, Socitm’s Better Connected programme will be testing council websites across the UK on the quality of what they provide for older people and families with care needs.
In two separate surveys, we will be looking first to assess the provision online of information and advice around local care support for an older person, and second to see how easy it is to go online and request a care assessment for an elderly relative.
The first of these reflects the requirements of the 2014 Care Act that local authorities provide access to information and advice about all care and support services in their area - not just those provided by the council – and that the service cover the needs all the local population, not just those in receipt of care or support arranged or funded by the local authority.
These new requirements have led to a flurry of activity by councils over the last two years to develop their website provision to accommodate the Act.
Up to then, social care pages provided by councils had tended to focus on the needs of the relatively small proportion of older people eligible for council funding. Content described the processes of needs and eligibility assessments with an implicit assumption that people would be guided through the system by council staff.
Providing information and advice online in such a way that all comers might self-serve their needs around social care was always going to be a big ask for social care departments. With notable exceptions, many have been slow to accept the relevance of the internet and digital services, not least because of an assumption that the people they serve are less likely to be online.
Social care web pages, according to years of Better Connected testing, have always been poor in terms of their usability and the usefulness of their content. It is therefore hardly surprising that the social care directories and ‘e-marketplaces’ that have emerged since 2014 have enjoyed mixed success.
It is against this background that local authorities are now being challenged to be even more forthcoming in what they publish for local people about care provision in their patch.
In a report on their Older People’s Care Survey, published in November 2016, the Family and Childcare Trust says that local authorities should now include, in the information they provide, the cost of care home and home care fees for such care as is available locally.
This obligation, says the report is also linked to the Care Act, which places new duties on local authorities in England and Wales to shape the local adult social care market. Part of market shaping is, of course, making available information about supply and demand.
Whether we are likely to see this happening with any degree of transparency anytime soon, however, must be in doubt because the Older People’s Care Survey highlights some inconvenient truths.
Among these the fact that supply of home care and care homes is running behind demand in more than half of local authority areas; that the cost of these services varies widely by geography (residential care costing inner London authorities £649 a week per place, compared with £464 in north-west England); that self-funders tend to pay more for the same services than local authorities pay on behalf of the people they fund; and that will take just one year and one month for self-funders receiving 21 hours of support a week to spend £20,000 of savings on average UK home care fees.
In this broken and unsustainable system, it is hard to see the value of publishing information when, as the Older People’s Care Survey says ‘many families will find that they cannot get meaningful help at a reasonable price, and will continue to care for a loved one themselves, often at considerable cost to their mental and physical health’.