This column was first published on 31 August 2016 in the MJ

This ADASS column comes with great sadness, with responsibility for writing it falling to me instead of our President, Harold Bodmer, who passed away suddenly on 20 July. His death came as a huge shock to all of us at ADASS and in the wider health and social care spheres, but most of all, to those closest to him. We appreciate the touching tributes sent to us and we have sent them all on to his family, who I’m sure will be grateful for everyone’s kind words and recognition of his dedication to his work.

Shortly before his death Harold launched the annual ADASS Budget Survey and warned that budget cuts and increasing demand were putting social care in significant jeopardy. If disabled and older people are to get the help they need to live the lives they deserve, government must heed and act urgently on his message.

Every adult social care director in the country responded to the survey, resulting in a collective grim picture. The social care precept – introduced to help fund care – will generate less than two thirds of the £600+ million needed just to cover the National Living Wage this year. 80% of directors reported that local care providers were struggling with their finances. At least 24% of the £941 million savings needed to be made this year will come from cutting services or reducing personal budgets.

It’s a bleak forecast, made worse by the fact that care homes are already closing and home care providers are handing back contracts. Thousands of people have already been affected. The care that might have been provided just a few years ago is now not available to thousands more vulnerable people.  Investing more money in prevention would help to reduce future demand and, crucially, improve the quality of life of millions. However, this golden opportunity is being lost because the pressure on funding is so great that it is being diverted to those with the greatest and most immediate need - those that we have a statutory duty towards.

Improving the wellbeing and rights of carers is one of our top priorities. Due to the increasing numbers of people needing care and support, the country needs to give much more radical thought as to how it supports carers in the future, including through the NHS, suitable housing and rights to paid leave. We are determined to ensure the new National Carers Strategy incorporates best practice and achieves our aspirations for carers.

In our ageing population, ever greater numbers of older people are caring for someone, often with complex needs, such as those arising from dementia. This role can be physically and emotionally demanding and carers can become unwell or face mental health issues, without adequate respite or support. When it comes to young carers, their life-chances and social lives should not be diminished by their caring role. The Strategy must include support for young carers through the transition into adulthood, in particular making sure that they have rewarding lives of their own as they move on to become young adult carers.

We are pleased that the scope of the new Strategy is cross governmental.  In order to address carers needs successfully, it is absolutely essential that we have both adequate financial backing and effective integration of services beyond health and social care. Housing, education and employment support, for example, are all essential elements that should be integrated into the health and social care support offer. Councils can also provide leadership to shape carer friendly communities and we must involve carers in the development and implementation of local policy.

The Strategy should include recognition that the ability of councils to deliver significant new ambitions relies hugely on additional investment from government and it should make a clear case for that investment. As the Strategy is developed, ADASS will continue to provide further evidence of best practice, such as refreshing the 2015 Department of Health commissioned guide to Efficient and Effective Interventions for Carers, which gives specific examples of good practice.

In today’s climate of incredible pressure for both the NHS and social services, working together has never been more vital to avoid unacceptable consequences for disabled and older people, their families and their carers. Whilst Harold made no secret of his dislike of the Better Care Fund, he was convinced that integration was a key mechanism for local authorities to influence and shape local health and care provision.

The social care sector undoubtedly lost a great leader in Harold and at ADASS it is our duty to carry on his legacy to support and protect those who need it most.

ENDS