#Time2TalkCare- What is Social Care?

Published: 19/06/2020

What is social care? Who provides social care? How is social care paid for? How is our ageing population affecting the demand for care?


In England, health care has a very recognisable brand; we’re all familiar with the NHS and know how to access its services through GPs, nurses and hospitals.  It is publicly funded by central government and usually free at the point of access.

In contrast, however, there is no National Care Service.  Social care is delivered by thousands of organisations and covers a huge range of activities from child protection to end of life care.  In these articles we focus on adult social care which provides help, care and protection from harm for adults with physical disabilities, learning disabilities or physical and mental illnesses as well as for their carers.

The difference between health care and social care is difficult to define, but broadly speaking;

  • Health care is associated with the treatment, care or aftercare of someone with a disease, illness, injury or disability
  • Social care is associated with the assistance of daily living; maintaining independence and social interaction either in your own home or in supported accommodation such as a care home.  Social care can be comprised of;
    • Support to make sure you eat well
    • Help to look after yourself
    • Help with day to day living
    • Emotional support for your wellbeing and mental health
    • Support to stay safe
    • Support for your family and friends to care for you

Local government has the primary responsibility for publicly funded social care (as set out in the Care Act 2014) and it spends over two thirds of its total budget on social care and 45% on adult social care alone.  With this money it provides information and advice, assesses care needs, arranges short-term support or reablement, safeguards vulnerable individuals and commissions and monitors a large range of care services.

Not surprisingly, it has been shown that the need for support increases with age. The national audit office’s report in 2016 showed that people aged 80 and over were twice as likely to need help with activities of daily living as those aged between 65 and 69.

When you consider that our population is getting older at a faster and faster rate (in 2035 the % of our population over the age of 85 will have grown to 2.9m) it is easy to see that the aging population is putting a huge strain on both the funding available to councils to pay for social care and the capacity of services to be able to cope with the increased demand. 

Despite the increase in the number of older people, the trend over the last 6 years is that less is spent by councils on adult social care services; between 2010 and 2016 the decrease was 3.3% in real terms.  This means that the financial burden of buying social care is being taken on more and more by the individuals receiving the care and the physical burden is falling increasingly to family, friends and neighbours as unpaid carers.  In fact, the majority of social care is provided by unpaid carers; it is estimated there are around 6m people providing some 7.6bn hours of care in comparison to about 1m paid care assistants working for home care agencies or care homes.

Social care is assuming a far more important role in the UK as we face an ageing population and greater incidence of age-related illness. However, unlike NHS treatment, social care isn’t free for everyone and how much you contribute to your care will depend on your financial situation.

Read next week's article which looks in more detail at how social care is funded, how is it decided whether you can receive local authority funded care and if you are eligible, how you can access funding.

Article reproduced from a feature that first appeared in the Basingstoke Observer

Bluebird Care is a home and live-in care provider based in Kingsclere.  You can contact us on 01256 762324 or kingsclere@bluebirdcare.co.uk for more information and advice about care.