Jointly with the Nuffield Trust, the King’s Fund has released its latest report on the state of social care in the UK. The report highlights the impotence of public care provision by noting that the dramatic drop in people receiving publicly funded services (26% over 5 years) is at odds with an increasing number of people with long-term conditions. As well as clearly defining an unmet need, this juxtaposition also helps evidence another point that is often glossed over in similar reports: the growing inequality in care provision within the UK.
People who are able to afford private services can continue to age healthily, often with the aid of expensive technology as shown in AgeUK’s report on telecare, however this leaves a large portion of the population on a ledge. Anyone who has a net value of just above £23,000 is in fact forced to either pay for their own care or attempt to demonstrate to the local authorities that their needs are high enough to make them eligible for publicly funded care. Given that local authorities have no resources to spare but for the most frail and vulnerable, preventative measures are often out of the question, meaning that the system is set up to spiral into an ever increasing expenditure and decreasing quality of life for families who cannot afford the rising costs of care.
The report does however end with a glimmer of hope, to be found through technology. The authors see technology as an enabler, particularly to families that have been left to take charge where public care has failed them. We believe the potential of new digital technologies is even greater. Whereas telecare has always been financially discriminating – only available to the richest or, through local authorities, to those who were most in need – novel digital tools do not discriminate by wealth. The prevalence of smartphones, although still small, is in fact very well spread across different personal wealth brackets. There is then a clear opportunity here to create something that can help make care affordable to everyone again – effectively democratising care.