You might be forgiven for thinking anyone who is a victim of a serious injury in the UK – whether due to a brain injury, a spinal injury, an amputation or worse – has access to adequate public social care.

Sadly for many, accessing this care has become increasingly difficult as we face the impact of years of austerity from the Conservative government, coupled with the more recent challenges posed by COVID-19.

Mike Hope, a client liaison coordinator at Thompsons Solicitors - responsible for making sure that Thompsons’ serious injury clients get the maximum care packages possible - who has years of experience supporting victims of serious injury or clinical negligence, discusses the crucial role of the social care sector and how victims have to cope with a beleaguered, underfunded and weakened social care system, which is letting them down when they need it most.

 

“At a point in history where, more than ever, we need a good, effective and a robust civil society with public health measures to support the most vulnerable, the reality is hollowed-out and underfunded public services, where many key functions have been outsourced to underperforming and over-charging private companies. This has had an enormous impact on the social care sector.

“Concerns about social care were voiced throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s, but the issue was largely kicked into the long grass by successive governments. The first sincere attempt to build a cross-party consensus on how to properly fund social care services with plans for universal social care wasn’t until 2010 from the then Labour Health Secretary, Andy Burnham. His proposals would have likely been the biggest shake up in healthcare since the formation of the NHS, but in the run up to the 2010 election the Conservatives withdrew from discussions and labelled the idea a ‘death tax’, which in itself delivered a death knell to any chance of such a policy coming into force. 

“Since 2010 central government has reduced its amount of funding to local authorities by a startling 40 per cent. While we have seen the creation of two improved pieces of legislation - the Care Act 2012 and the Children and Families Act 2014 – which focus more on the rights of service users and give clear criteria for access to services, these have been consistently and deliberately underfunded by the Conservatives, despite the best efforts of the opposition.

“The result is Acts that are not fit-for-purpose. Social care remains in a perilous state as local authorities respond to the lack of funding by making their eligibility criteria progressively more stringent, which, in turn, makes it more difficult than ever for people – including those who are adapting to life after a serious injury - to access support. 

“The quality of social care provided is also in question. In the area of adult social care, most providers of care homes and domiciliary care are private companies. These companies exist to maximise profit and to do so they look for every opportunity to cut costs. They indulge in an annual tussle with local authorities for funding and they then often pay their staff little more than the minimum wage. It is both sad and infuriating to see the detailed and intimate personal care of frail and vulnerable people, including those who have suffered life-changing injuries, left to workers who are on the lowest wages and who have minimal training. 

“In recent years we have had prolonged periods of silence from the Conservatives, until an election looms. Just last year, Boris Johnson blustered – as he so often does – that he was going to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all” - something he then repeated using different verbiage at the virtual Conservative Party Conference this Autumn. Sadly, nothing further has come of either seemingly throwaway remark which speaks volumes about the real value our present government places on social care.

“At a point in history where, more than ever, we need a good, effective and a robust civil society with public health measures to support the most vulnerable, the reality is hollowed-out and underfunded public services, where many key functions have been outsourced to underperforming and over-charging private companies."

Mike Hope, Client liaison coordinator, Thompsons Solicitors

“The picture became even more bleak when COVID-19 landed on our shores and social care fell even further down the list of priorities. The Coronavirus Act 2020 has given local authorities the right to opt-out of their statutory responsibility to comply with the Care Act 2012 and the Children and Families Act 2014. Many have opted to do this, while others have just cut services informally. Either way, at a time when adequate social care is most needed, it is even less available – and individuals and families are left on their own to cope as best they can.

“Worse still, when the first wave of the virus was at its peak in March and April, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, urged hospitals to discharge elderly vulnerable people into care without even testing them. Not only did this cause COVID-19 to spread throughout care homes and affect the most vulnerable, but a failure to test staff – many of whom work not only in residential homes but in home care services as well – meant that a number of social care workers became ‘super-spreaders’ without even realising it.

“In the absence of central government formulating a viable plan, with cross-party support, to both refund and re-value the sector, I cannot honestly say there is any light at the end of the tunnel. While Labour’s idea of a National Care Service - on a par with the NHS - is welcome, the day to day reality for now, for victims of serious injury who are reliant on our social care sector is that they are being short changed in a big way.

“At Thompsons Solicitors, where we witness first-hand the struggles that serious injury victims face and we work tirelessly to ensure each and every one of our serious injury cases are successful – with settlements offering victims the ability to cover the costs of private healthcare – thousands of families across the UK are faced with relying on a collapsing social care sector. 

“We know the short-term and long-term impacts of serious injuries on the lives of victims and families are vast.  And that is why we are proud to have always stood on the side of the injured party and why we will without hesitation take every opportunity to use our extensive expertise to secure as much compensation as possible, providing them with the means of managing the costs of private care and rehabilitation and retaining their pride.”