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Tonight's Panorama should provoke anger and action on social care

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LGC previews tonight’s BBC Panorama programme on social care in Somerset

There were tears in the audience following a preview screening of the first episode of Panorama’s Crisis in Care documentary last week.

Speaking afterwards, Andrew Dilnot, the architect of a cap on care costs included in the Care Act 2014 and subsequently dropped by a Conservative government spooked by an issue that had tainted their 2017 election campaign, admitted he had wept at the extraordinarily difficult circumstances the carers and cared-for featured found themselves in.

Referring to failure of successive governments to find a sustainable solution to social care, he said: “As a society we have failed.”

The failure is brought into sharp focus as the documentary, due to air on BBC1 at 9pm tonight, follows the plight of people in Somerset who are either misfortunate enough to need state-funded care or are looking after loved ones in such a predicament and struggling to pick up the pieces when support falls well short.

Encephalitis and dementia left Michael prone to seizures and needing around the clock care. Barbara, one of a series of heroes featured, is steadfastly dedicated to caring for her husband, but visibly struggling with the level of help they receive and refusing to dwell on her own health problems.

But Barbara dismisses the idea of Michael going to into residential care (“I will be crawling before I do that”) before describing how fewer and fewer friends and family were getting in touch as Michael’s condition worsened.

Paul has Down’s syndrome and lived independently with his mother for 60 years before her recent death. We see his niece fighting for a place for Paul in the family’s first choice care home after the council says it cannot afford it.

Rachel looks after her mother who has dementia, but the closure of a specialist day centre takes away what few hours of respite care she can get as she doggedly preservers despite chronic fatigue syndrome.

Martine, just 37, has been left “trapped” by her own body as her rare form of arthritis worsens and she is barely able to move. Her quietly dedicated husband suffers from sleep deprivation as he works when he can and tends to her every need – while looking after their toddler triplets.

These people’s circumstances will be of no surprise to those who live and breathe the pressures and frustrations of delivering adult social care without adequate means.

The documentary features Somerset CC’s director of adult social services Stephen Chandler as he faces this challenge head on. But he stresses how the scale of savings he is required to make while providing adequate services is “on the verge of the impossible” and admits he is “personally and professionally on a knife edge”.

Meanwhile, Somerset itself is going through wider challenges as it seeks to reduce an in-year overspend from £20m to £3m, leading to claims it could be the next Northamptonshire CC as pressure is exerted by opposition councillors and the community.

Somerset’s motivation for agreeing to take part in this powerful documentary was to attempt to raise awareness of what social care is, how it functions, who is responsible, and the impact on people’s lives of an inadequately funded system.

Crisis in Care succeeds in balancing the profoundly moving and disturbing on the one hand while providing important information about the financial context councils are working in on the other

However, it remains to be seen how far-reaching this impact will be. The Social Care Future platform, which advocates creating a social movement to bring about fundamental change in how social care is funded and delivered, has commissioned research which shows negative media portrayals of social care do not create the right narrative and impetus for positive change.

The programme also raises the question of what impact it will have where it counts, in government. Are the issues of variation in performance, effective integration and sustainable models of delivery suffciently addressed to pique the interest of the bean counters in the Treasury? LGC understands the second episode will go further into some of the themes.

Somerset deserves immense credit for taking the risk in very difficult circumstances of going under the national spotlight in an attempt to raise awareness and stimulate debate on such a pressing issue.

The love, dedication and sacrifice demonstrated by the carers featured in often harrowing circumstances should not only prompt tears and shame, but anger and action.

Jon Bunn, senior reporter

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