As the UK economy recovers, albeit slowly, the public sector remains in continuous recession for the foreseeable future. It is not so much a crisis as a permanent transition which is speeding up. This mirrors personal lives, with a large section of the population transitioning either between new countries, relationships, jobs or lifestyles.
One of the main debates at the NCAS (National Child and Adult Services) conference in Bournemouth this week asks the question, what has changed in the last twenty years? Having worked in social care throughout that period, and the twenty years before that, I would say that a lot has changed for the better. The students I meet and teach at two universities are the brightest and best I have ever known, even if they are not yet prepared well enough for the reality they will face in work. The social care staff I meet are also pretty amazing. Many work evenings and weekends to make sure their most vulnerable service users stay safe. The NHS staff I know, at all levels, are the same. The knowledge base for practising social care is much stronger than twenty years ago. We know more and that is helping vulnerable people more.
Some problems are much the same. Delayed transfers of care are still with us. The optimism about a paradigm shift of resources from acute to primary care just has not happened, even though standards of care and treatment in both are better. Professional mistakes and toxic professional cultures still define our profession in the public mind, even though satisfaction levels among people who use social care services are higher than ever.
Importantly, social care to vulnerable children and adults is embedded in legislation and civic society. It will still be part of the shrinking state. What matters most in the last twenty years is the day-to-day support and targeted help provided to millions of citizens, providing an incalculable public value and benefit. Social care is the fourth emergency service and often helps people at the most critical point in their life choose life over death. Despite outcomes not being as routinely strong as any of us would want, most children in care and vulnerable adults are supported in their transition to get to a better place in their lives.
The next twenty years will see massive change too, and we have to take that in our stride, adapt to the permanent transition and go on helping millions more, day in and day out. That is our role and function as public servants. It will always be like that, wherever we work and whatever we do.
If I have one wish, it is that our social care organisations become more stable and reliable. The people we work with are on a rollercoaster. Many are in desperate situations. Too many organisations are preoccupied with their own rollercoaster too, which distracts staff from their core business.
I am privileged to do what I do, despite the pressures. It has been a fantastic career and profession to choose and be part of. I recommend it to others.
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