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Ten years of the Care Act: a decade of social care evolution

14 May 2024
By Deborah Rozansky, SCIE’s Director of Policy, Research and Information

The introduction of the Care Act 2014 was a landmark moment for social care. The legislation modernised a system that had been unchanged for around 60 years. Setting out new duties for local authorities, the Act’s new ambitions and concepts sought to change the way care is typically delivered.

Having worked in health and social care for many years, I remember how the Care Act signified hope and change. The drive to reform historical practices aimed for high-quality, person-centred care to those who need it. But ten years on, has it succeeded in its promise?

Image of SCIE employee Deborah Rozansky

The transformation of social care

Looking back, there is no doubt that the Care Act 2014 has been transformational. For the first time, there was an improved focus on people’s wellbeing and independence. This meant shifting from a service-led system to enabling individuals to have choice and control over the care and support they needed. The role of unpaid carers was also acknowledged by the Care Act with a new statutory requirement for local authorities to assess and meet their wellbeing needs, too.

The adoption of co-production principles and practices in social care is another of the key changes we have seen. The Care Act 2014 was the first piece of legislation to include the concept of co-production, emphasising the importance of placing people at the heart of their care and involving them in the design and delivery of services.

Over the years, we have seen the value of co-production increasingly recognised and good practice adopted, most recently in the Government’s 2021 Adult Social Reform White Paper. The regulation of social care has evolved to include people’s experiences, in the form of “I” and “We” statements, in the evaluation of care quality and safety. Co-production also underpins and informs all our work at SCIE, enabling us to spread best practices across the sector.

The challenges ahead

Despite the Care Act’s impact, there’s a palpable sense that the transformation of services is still ongoing. Implementation of its provisions has been challenging and incomplete, leaving many ambitions unrealised. Today, the reality for many seeking to access social care services is one of frustration and inequality.

A major challenge has been funding, which has not kept up with demand for social care. Over the years, local authorities’ budgets have been squeezed, piling pressure on an overstretched social care system. With rising costs of care, fewer people now receive state funded support for their care needs.

The workforce remains unstable, with higher turnover than other industries. Morale among social care professionals has fallen as they find themselves with more work to do, but with less time and resources. In some cases, tasks like providing accessible information and carrying out care assessments have been reduced to mere signposting.

Despite these challenges and ongoing pressures, there has been a longstanding lack of appetite by the main political parties to address the root causes, particularly how care is funded. For people to experience the quality of what they need and deserve, we must also change the way social care is organised, including exploring the potential for new service models and the role of innovation.

Recent calls for revisiting the balance of responsibilities between individuals and the state open the door to reshaping the narrative about care work to reflect its skilled nature and its value to society.

With emerging policies, innovations, and campaigns, there’s hope for a fairer and more equitable social care system. As we look ahead, the Act’s core principles remain our guiding star at SCIE, driving our commitment to improving social care for all.

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