Future of Social Care – Equality must be at the heart of a new care service

Written by: Lynn Welsh, Head of Legal and Compliance, Equality and Human Rights Commission

Published: 28/10/2021

Future of Social Care

Lynn Welsh reflects on how we can achieve a social care system with ‘human rights, equity and equality at its very heart.'

We have heard so many people tell us enthusiastically and passionately that we now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform care in Scotland. In the Equality and Human Rights Commission, we wholeheartedly agree. This is a chance to properly build equality and human rights into a National Care Service meaning that they will be part of everything that it does and delivers.

So, it’s good news that the Government has committed to taking a human rights-based approach to developing the new service. However, this is not enough to achieve the significant change that is needed. We know the system isn’t working for everyone, and to date social care reform has not helped to achieve real change based on equality for the people using and working in social care.

The pandemic has highlighted many of the flaws in the current system and too often social care services are not able to give people the high quality support that they need and are entitled to. Too many people were not able to access social care services during the national lockdown and had to rely on the goodwill of neighbours, friends and family for help. This situation leaves people without the dignity or independence that they’re entitled to and we all expect to enjoy.

In view of this, we have to make sure we get this right. If those in need of social care don’t get it, we’ll see a widening of existing inequalities. Building equality into the design and delivery of the new social care system and involving people who rely on the services will make sure it truly is person-centred and lets people live an independent life as part of their community.

Disabled people must have the same choice and control over how and where they live as non-disabled people. We want to see the right to independent living incorporated into legislation creating a National Care Service.

Legal requirement to consider equality

The Public Sector Equality Duty requires public bodies consider equality in everything they do. This is a legal obligation as well as being the right thing to do for the people of Scotland. However, we know performance of the duties is patchy. There needs to be a renewed focus and commitment from our public sector leaders to use the tools set out in equality law to drive progress.

We know there are significant gaps in knowledge about who needs social care, who is getting care and support and whether their needs are being met.  For example, at a basic level, we don’t know how many LGBT or ethnic minority people access social care support and if they don’t, why not.

Equality data gaps are a significant problem because it is impossible to design and deliver person-centred social care services if you do not know anything about the people using the service and what their needs are. We need to take action now to find out more about the people who use social care and use this information to inform the planning and delivery of a social care service fit for all.

Benefits of an equality-led approach

We know that progress towards equality is slow and not consistent or widespread. The stark reality of inequality is that too often people are unable to realise their full potential. Access to high-quality social care that meets people’s needs can help to provide everyone with an equal chance to participate in day-to-day things like work, learning, seeing family and friends and doing exercise – things that many of us take for granted.

This is particularly important for disabled people who we know, for example, are more likely to be unemployed, have no or fewer qualifications and be in bad or very bad health.

Finally, we must also recognise and value people working in social care by investing in their training, and ensuring better pay and working conditions. These workers, who are predominately women, continue to face immense pressure to deliver services that the public need and without them, there wouldn’t be a service at all.

The creation of a National Care Service is an opportunity to help to achieve a more equal Scotland. We must grab it with both hands to ensure people’s rights are upheld and we create a care system that we can all be proud of.

You can read the full EHRC Scotland consultation response on our website at:

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/consultation-response-a-national-care-service-for-scotland-26-october-2021.docx (this link will take you away from our website) 

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