During the peak of the first lockdown, people gathered on their doorsteps to clap for carers; now we must properly reward them. Reimagining the care system should therefore be at the heart of the plan for a just recovery, centring the needs of care workers and care receivers. Critically, a transformed care system is also key to a green recovery. Care work is green work. Care work – both paid and unpaid – is a socially vital and collective service that contributes significantly to individual and collective wellbeing by addressing a core human needs; it also by its nature tends to be low-carbon work. Care work also embodies the principles of reparative action, reciprocity, and a focus on meeting needs that is at the heart of a Green New Deal.
In designing the more just and sustainable decarbonised economy of the future, care must therefore be recognised as a service that needs to be substantially expanded and better valued. The Green New Deal should not be limited to bold industrial strategy for tradable sectors such as manufacturing and technology; a strategy for transforming care work should also feature as a key pillar.
Economic policy debates in the UK increasingly pay attention to adult social care; however, they tend to approach it as a ‘low productivity’ sector in which productivity must be raised to both increase wages and tackle the UK’s ‘productivity problem’. There are a number of fundamental issues with this approach. The first is an overly simplistic understanding of the relationship between productivity and wages. The second is a neglect of the distinctive human dimension of care as a service – where increasing productivity would, beyond a certain point, inevitably lead to a deterioration in quality. Finally, the approach fails to appreciate the significance of care as a collective service that secures wellbeing, rather than simply a source of income.
To bring about a transition from a sector dominated by for-profit provision to one that puts the needs of people first, an alternative, people-centred industrial strategy is needed for adult social care in England. Such a strategy would not narrowly target the private sector, but would rather focus on increasing and strengthening public provision, as well as innovative forms of cooperative, voluntary and community provision. Anchoring this transition, we believe that the public sector must return to its historic role, delivering the majority of adult social care. Rather than being narrowly directed towards raising productivity, a people-centred industrial strategy would aim to increase the social value of adult social care, in an expansive sense. This would encompass:
People-centred industrial strategy, then, is concerned not just with increasing productivity through a narrow lens and boosting the efficiency with which wealth is produced, but with reshaping the distribution (or ‘predistribution’) of wealth.
The strategy aims for a radical overhaul of adult social care over the next decade, without leaving local authorities responsible for delivering services exposed in the process. Alongside national-level measures to enable long-term transformation, it includes local authority-level measures to enable interim reshaping.
The strategy is summarised in fifteen key recommendations. It should be emphasised that the proposed strategy applies to England, rather than Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland (for which adult social care is a devolved responsibility). This focus was chosen as it is in England that attempts to reform social care are least developed, and change is thus most needed. There is nevertheless much that will be of relevance for transforming care in the other nations of the UK and indeed throughout other countries more broadly.
To read the full report please see the PDF here.
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