Social care in England

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Social care in England is defined as the provision of social work, personal care, protection or social support services to children or adults in need or at risk, or adults with needs arising from illness, disability, old age or poverty. The main legal definitions flow from the Health and Community Care Act 1990 with other provisions covering responsibilities to informal carers. That provision may have one or more of the following aims: to protect people who use care services from abuse or neglect, to prevent deterioration of or promote physical or mental health, to promote independence and social inclusion, to improve opportunities and life chances, to strengthen families and to protect human rights in relation to people's social needs.[1]

Local commissioners, mainly based in Councils oversee a market with many different types of social care provision available, either purchased by public bodies after assessments or accessed on a self funded basis by the public. These include community support and activities, advisory services and advocacy, provision of equipment to manage disabilities, alarm systems e.g. to manage the outcome of falls, home/domiciliary care or daycare, housing options with levels of care support attached, residential nursing home care, as well as support for informal carers.

Social care is frequently used as a synonymous term with social welfare, and as an alternative to social work.[2] The term often implies informal networks of support and assistance as well as services funded following assessments by social work and other professions.

Brief history

Social care has long existed as an informal concept, through family and community support and charitable works. The earliest Act of Parliament to offer formal support was the Elizabethan Poor Law of 1601, which referred those in need of health or domestic care, housing, or employment to the care of their parish. This ‘care’ could include payments, food, apprenticeships, boarding or referral to a workhouse.

Social care became more formalised with the advent of social work in the 19th century. This shift is attributed to the end of the feudal system and the rise of industrialisation,and a more urbanized population which bought greater social deprivation. It also bought a decline in the support provided by family and close-knit communities as people became more mobile and moved to different areas for work.[3] Social care was often provided by voluntary organisations, but some services were financed through health insurance contributions collected through mutually owned societies.[4]

The development of social sciences such as psychology and sociology in the early 20th century bought social structures under further scrutiny and opened the way for social work to become an area of academic study and for a staff group to develop claims to be a profession.

When the Liberal UK Government came into power in 1906, the first means-tested pension came into force for people aged 70 and over. Further formal health and social care provision followed with the creation of the NHS and the welfare state in England in the 1940s, making statutory health and social care free at the point of access]for residents.[4]

From this point a separation grew between policies to support income maintenance and those to support social care.

Areas of work

Social care in the modern context encompasses many areas of need, each with a level of specialist services. These can be broadly categorised as follows:

Adults – this includes support for older people, people with mental health problems, learning or physical disabilities, those with alcohol and substance misuse problems, the homeless, prevention of abuse or neglect, domestic abuse and associated support for families and carers

Children, young people and families – this includes preventative family support and child protection services, child placement, fostering, adoption, working with young offenders, children and young people who have learning or physical disabilities, or homeless, as well as support for families and carers.

Workforce – this includes the provision of resources, training and support for those working in social care.

Paying for social care

The majority of those receiving adult social care in England will be expected to pay for it if they are able to. Means-tested support is available from local authorities, but is targeted at those whose assets or income are not sufficient to pay for their care. Some local authorities may offer people a way to postpone paying their care costs through a deferred payment, though evidence suggests this is not currently universally available.[5]

The care workforce

The social care workforce broadly encompasses those who work in public services that are provided, directly or commissioned, by local councils to discharge their personal social services (PSS) responsibilities.

In England, the social care workforce comprises over one and half million people. An estimated two thirds of the workforce work for some 25,000 employers in the private and voluntary sectors. The remaining third work in the statutory sector, largely for 150 local councils with personal social services responsibilities.[6] Data on the social care workforce is collected and analysed by Skills for Care, the national workforce organization for adult social care in England. Data is collected on the social care workforce through Skills for Care's National Minimum Data Set (NMDS-SC).

These two areas broadly break down into the responsibilities of "provision" and "assessment and commissioning" on behalf of local public finance for people felt to be in need according to eligibility criteria.

The range of work settings includes the community, hospitals, health centres, education and advice centres and people’s homes.[7] Social care practitioners frequently work in partnership with staff from other professions, including health, housing, education, advice and advocacy services and the law.


The Care Standards Act 2000, as well as establishing regulations covering service provision, brought greater recognition for the profession of social work with the introduction of a social work degree and social workers’ register. To become a social worker in the UK and use the title, students need to complete an Honours degree or postgraduate MA in Social Work. There are access courses for mature students, trainee schemes and employment based routes to gaining the qualification.[6] Qualified social workers are currently required to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) before commencing practice. Social workers are also required to ensure that they keep their training and knowledge up-to-date with current developments in the field.

Occupational Therapy is another important profession working in health and social care settings, contributing to the promotion of people's independence through advice and provision of equipment, and enhancing the suitability of housing through Adaptations.

There are many other social care roles for which other qualifications, experience and training may be necessary.

Examples of the range of professions within this field include policy makers, researchers, academics, project workers, support workers, employed care staff (in residential or domiciliary care settings sometimes confusingly referred to as "carers") and personal assistants.[8]

Social care organisations

UK Social workers are currently registered with the Health Professions Council which sets codes of conduct and practice. Through the work of the Munro Review, the Social Work Reform Board and the piloting of social work practices, Government aims to give greater autonomy to social workers. The Reform Board recommended the development of a professional college. The College of Social Work has been set up with the aim of improving and supporting social work by leading the development of the profession and representing it in discussions with organisations that regulate, train, work with, and are affected by social work. Social care services are regulated by the Care Quality Commission.

Other social care organisations include the Social Care Institute for Excellence - an independent charity that identifies and transfers knowledge about good practice, and Skills for Care, the national lead agency for policy and strategy related to workforce development and the adult social care workforce.

The National Skills Academy for Social Care, launched in 2009, provides learning support and training practice for social care workers and employers in England with a specific remit on leadership development.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services is the official voice of senior social care managers in England.

There are many other voluntary and independent organisations that exist to support the delivery of social care. These exist to support both the social care workforce and people who use services, and include user-led organisations.

Future directions

Local authority spending on adult social care is a demand on the local tax revenue and for this reason and associated costs to the NHS from hospital admissions, Social care is high on the UK government’s agenda, with an aim of integration of health, social care and education to reflect the overlap between these areas.[9]

The Coalition Government's plans for adult social care services are set out in 'A vision for adult social care: capable communities and active citizens', which was published in November 2010.[10] The aim is to make services more personalised, more preventative and more focused on delivering the best outcomes for the people who use them. The Government wants people eligible for services to be advised of the public money to be allocated to their needs (their "Personal care budget")and to encourage care and support to be accessed from a partnership between individuals, communities, the voluntary sector, the NHS and councils. The rollout of personal budgets will be extended, and councils and NHS organisations will be expected to work together in an integrated way to commission services. The Health and Social Care Bill published in January 2011 outlines these changes in more detail.[11]

A 10-year strategy for mental health, New Horizons[12] was published in December 2009 by the Labour government. The current government is due to publish a new mental health strategy for England.

Dementia care is an area that has received increasing attention, following the launch of the National Dementia Strategy in February 2009. This strategy focuses on ‘living well’ with dementia and aims to provide those living with dementia and their carers information and support that maintains dignity and increases choice. With rises in life expectancy leading to increase in people affected by dementia, The Coalition Government has indicated that dementia remains a priority. Age UK estimated in 2014 that 900,000 people in England between the age of 65 and 89 had unmet social care needs, and said in 2015 that the figure was increasing because 40% cuts to government funding for local councils, which provide the bulk of social care, had had a devastating impact.[13]

In children’s services, Government will focus on helping the poorest and most vulnerable families, through targeted and early intervention. Ministers across Government have made a commitment to end child poverty by 2020. The establishment of the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes in Children’s and Young People’s Services is intended to support this agenda in England.

Developing the skills of the social care workforce is a continuous priority, specifically in response to changes in the social care sector and media coverage of social care issues. Following the recommendations of the Social Work Taskforce (2009), The College of Social Work has been set up. The College will represent and support social workers and help maintain standards for the profession. Skills for Care is the lead national body for strategy and policy in relation to workforce development and the social care workforce.

See also


  1. Social Care Institute for Excellence
  2. Dearing, A. (1993) The social welfare word book, Harlow: Longman
  3. Blackwell Reference Online
  4. 4.0 4.1 BBC History
  5. "Fairer Care Funding: The Report of the Commission on Funding of Care and Support, July 2011" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-09-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 Department of Health
  7. Prospects website
  8. Davies, M. (ed) (2000), The Blackwell encyclopaedia of social work, Oxford: Blackwell
  9. Prospects website
  10. "[ARCHIVED CONTENT] A vision for adult social care: Capable communities and active citizens : Department of Health - Publications". Retrieved 2012-10-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Health and Social Care Bill 2011 : Department of Health - Publications". Retrieved 2012-10-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "New Horizons: a shared vision for mental health : Department of Health - Publications". 2009-12-07. Retrieved 2012-10-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "A million elderly people lack basic social care as unprecedented funding cuts leave struggling NHS to pick up the pieces". Independent. 12 April 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links