What’s the real ‘story’ of Care Minister downgrade?
Posted by: Alistair Clay | 08.08.16

Like many people in the social care sector I was stunned to hear that PM Theresa May had downgraded the role of Care Minister in her post-Brexit cabinet reshuffle.

At a time when the sector is facing unprecedented demand and crippling funding shortfalls it seemed bizarre to demote responsibility for such a vital sector to the rank of parliamentary under-secretary.

The repercussions may not be felt immediately, but not having a person at the top table speaking up for some of the most vulnerable people in our society sends a clear message that these individuals are sadly not a priority for this administration.

As Dr Alison Rose-Quirie, CEO of Swanton Care and Community, rightly suggests in her recent Health Investor article, this is a disaster for social care, and also for the wider NHS, the fate of which is inextricably linked to the former.

So how could this happen? How could the millions of people who rely on social care every day suddenly lose their ministerial champion?

One theory is that despite the incredible progress social care has made in recent years, especially around streams of dementia care and mental health, ours is a story that still needs to be stronger, more compelling in the public and political arena.

Unless you happen to work in the sector, are a consumer of social care services, or have a family/friend who does, then social care is still relatively hidden. As such this makes it easier for politicians to ignore because, bluntly, there is less electoral risk, fewer votes to lose.

There’s less PR risk too.

So much as breathe on the NHS and the media will come down on you like a tonne of bricks. Social care? Not so much, bar the infrequent hidden camera expose. There’s a total void of serious, analytical journalism examining the structural challenges which we face as a society in the grip of a care crisis.

The fact of the matter is many of us use the NHS on a semi-regular basis, no matter what demographic. Elderly care services and adult social care services are a different matter. We may only need these once in our life time, or if we are a regular user we are in a minority (significant, but a minority by electoral standards).

As a sector we need to be better at telling the story of the significant and positive impact we have on the lives of millions of people every day – and the lives that touch these people. We need to evidence what we do and make emotional connections.

When done well social care work is vital, transformative and life-changing. We must be less bashful and shout this from the rooftops, create an army of fans and advocates scrutinising every government decision. Perhaps then the Prime Minister will be less willing to discard social care to the ministerial backwaters.