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Mark Lloyd: green paper must not dodge social care's big questions

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Every one of us will at some point have contact with adult social care, whether we need it for ourselves or a loved one, or if we work in the sector or as an unpaid carer. Adult social care and support matters – it helps people live the life they want to.

But we need an honest, open debate about how we pay for care, and we need it now. Successive governments have avoided this issue for two decades, with the current government disappointingly delaying its green paper until the autumn.

Because central governments keep ducking this urgent, nationally significant issue the Local Government Association has shown them it can be done by launching our own cross-party green paper today.

It is an ambitious and wide-ranging public consultation which sets out how we can make the system better and more sustainable. It also highlights the sometimes radical options that need to be considered to tackle the funding crisis facing adult social care head-on.

This is the biggest consultation we have ever held, sounding out the widest possible range of views and voices, including those who use these vital services.

Most urgent in the consultation is that social care faces a £3.5bn funding gap by 2025. But even closing that wouldn’t come close to solving the issue of sustainability of adult social care for the longer-term.

Councils are innovating as much as possible and learning from each other to improve adult social care and save money. But we know many are struggling to find any more areas where they can do so.

More and more people can’t receive good, reliable care, such as help with preparing meals, and getting washed and dressed. Councils increasingly have to divert funding from council services such as parks, leisure centres and libraries to pay for adult social care.

But all the work we have seen in the last few years could be undone if we don’t sort this issue out. In the last six months, more than 100 home-based and residential care providers have ceased trading, affecting more than 5,300 people.

Meanwhile providers have handed back contracts to more than 60 councils, affecting just under 3,000 people.

Age UK estimates that there are 1.4 million elderly people who do not receive the help they need. This includes 164,217 people who need help with three or more essential daily activities, such as washing, dressing and going to the toilet, and receive no help at all from either paid services or family and friends.

Recent polling shows that the public and politicians support greater funding for social care. There is increasing consensus that a long-term solution is needed in terms of funding, and an increasing appetite to make the system fairer.

But it is not enough just to fund the same model of care, which tries to patch people up when they are already in need of care and support.

Councils and their partners in the NHS and community organisations want to develop community-based preventative support, linked into wider services such as housing, public health, leisure and recreation to keep people well and independent for as long as possible.

These organisations know that investing in adult social care helps prevent people from going to hospital and keeps them living in their own homes and communities. It was one of the key messages in NHS England’s own five-year forward view.

We in local government also know the best solutions for our local communities and leadership to improve services should remain at local level. As such we want to hear your responses in our consultation.

As part of the effort, we have shared a resources pack with councils’ communications team to encourage and support them in promoting the consultation. This is incredibly important to us as we want as many residents, organisations and community groups to take part as possible.

Our findings should influence government policy – finding out what changes the public want to see and what they are prepared to pay to make them happen. We hope this will make it easier for the government to make the changes required.

We cannot have another government green paper that dodges the key questions. We hope our work will help turn the next document white.

Mark Lloyd, chief executive, Local Government Association

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