It was encouraging to read over the weekend research which had been undertaken by Ipsos Mori. It was the latest ‘Ipsos Mori Issues Index – 2018 in review’, which gives a “snapshot” of the top ten major concerns across individual parts of the country. Brexit and its implications was not surprisingly revealed as the most important issue facing Britain, topping the list.

However, what it also showed was that Scots worried about the ageing population and social care much more compared to concerns over immigration and crime than the rest of Britain. 16 per cent of people were concerned about social care compared with 11 per cent for the rest of the country. This is at least encouraging considering that ‘Scotland’s population is ageing at a faster rate compared with the rest of the UK, while the population is growing at a slower rate and fertility, life expectancy at birth and net in-migration are all lower.’

When I read the report I was encouraged by the prominence not least because the social care sector as well as facing huge demands in terms of capacity is eagerly awaiting a Scottish Budget that prioritises it rather than provides leftover crumbs from other fiscal concerns.

But when people talk about social care what do they really mean? Indeed I am reminded of a senior public official who recently confessed that it isn’t at all clear what social care is and what it’s distinctive role is.

There are many definitions, both legal and aspirational, as to what social care is and what it is not. For instance social care whilst it may contain services which are clinical or medical in nature is not primarily about one’s physiological health.

For me the role of social care is:

‘The enabling of those who require support or care to achieve their full citizenship. The fostering of contribution, the achievement of potential and the nurturing of belonging.’

That may all sound a bit nebulous but in essence social care is about enabling the fullness of life for every citizen who needs support whether on the grounds of age, disability, infirmity or health.

Social care is holistic in that it seeks to support the whole person and it is about attending to the individual’s wellbeing. It is about removing the barriers that limit and hold back and fostering conditions so that individuality can grow and an individual can flourish.

Social care is not about performing certain functions and tasks alone for it is primarily about relationship; the being with another that fosters individual growth, restoration and personal discovery. It is about enabling independence and reducing control, encouraging self-assurance and removing restriction, maximising choice and building community.

Therefore as many of us have sought to illustrate over the last few years, social care is profoundly about human rights. It is about giving the citizen control and choice, voice and agency, decision and empowerment.

All of the above is why social care is critical to Scotland’s future. That is why we need a social care workforce which is valued, well-rewarded and appropriately resourced. That is why we need to undertake necessary reforms and critically that is why we need to properly resource a sector that is a major contributor to Scotland’s economic and national progress.

Social care is not the handmaiden of the NHS- there as an adjunct department to clinician care and medical intervention . This why we cannot treat the two as if they were the same. Whilst inextricably linked the healthcare we deliver is vastly different from the social care we should rightly demand. One of the fundamental areas of difference has to do with choice.

If I have a medical emergency then personally I want the best clinical care and don’t really want to have much say in who delivers that care as long as they are trained, suitably qualified and supervised. A short term stay in a hospital is very different from the place and people with whom I spend my life. For if I am living with a lifelong condition or need support in any way because of life circumstances or age then I most certainly do want to have more choice and control both over who is in my life as a carer and what the nature of that support and care might be. The critical importance of legislation like Self-directed Support is all about embedding that control and choice, building those rights with the citizen.

We are absolutely right to value social care as intrinsic to the fabric of our society and as a marker of the maturity of our commitment to support and uphold one another in community.

In the weeks ahead social care will continue to face fiscal and workforce challenge but in those times it will remain critically important that we defend the intrinsic role and distinctiveness of social care rather than acquiesce in attempts to limit choice, control outcomes and thereby restrict individual rights.

It is to be celebrated that Scots care about social care and the ageing population and it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that social care is advanced and protected in the years ahead.

Donald Macaskill
@DrDMacaskill