First the good news: there’s some evidence that more people are aware of social care and concerned about the state it’s in. it comes from an admittedly small piece of qualitative commissioned by the Richmond Group of charities from Britain Thinks.

It carried out four focus groups and four depth interviews in November 2016, following up a similar piece of work in November 2014. In 2014 it found that social care as almost entirely absent from participants thinking but by late last year it did come up in the conversations.

That’s consistent with a much larger piece of quantitative research by NatCen which found that by the middle of 2015, concerns about social care had increased among the public.

And fortunately it’s also consistent with my own huge piece of research which basically involved typing ‘social care’ into Google Trends and seeing how much news coverage there has been for it in England since 2008. This shows that since 2011, social care has been far more consistently in the news. This appears to peak in 2012 before settling down at a relatively high rate (compared to 2008-2010), with coverage starting to pick up again during 2016 and the first few weeks of 2017.

Graph from Google Trends

We can see that there are apparent peaks in social care coverage in January 2011 and Spring 2012. However, that’s almost certainly down to the passage of the Health and Social Care Act over that period and doesn’t count really since the Act barely mentions social care other than in the title. The Care Act – which is of course actually about social care – probably accounts for some of the extra coverage from around 2012-2014 though.

Even more interesting perhaps is the increase in the last few months. This is shown more clearly in this graph of the last couple of years. You’ll see that social care has more coverage in each of the last three months than at any time in the previous two years. It must be a reasonable bet that this is due to the upswing in concern about social care in the national media.

Graph from Google Trends

But we shouldn’t get too carried away. The Britain Thinks research said that concern and discussion about the NHS was far higher than about social care, with most people not able to discern the difference. And that’s also borne out by my Google Trends doodling. This graph shows coverage of the NHS relative to social care since 2008.

Graph from Google Trends

You can just about make out social care coverage in blue, dwarfed inevitably by coverage of the NHS. So social care may be getting a bit more discussion but it’s the equivalent of a couple of sentences in a long essay, a trickle against the flood that is our National Health Service.

We’ve previously discussed why that is but in the last month it was brought home graphically by Simon Dudley, Chief Executive of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. He appeared on the Today programme to show solidarity with Surrey’s proposal to increase council tax by 15% to pay for social care. But he was also honest about why he thought it might be a tough sell. Of his 150,000 residents, he said, less than 2% would receive social care services from the council.

His pessimism was born out by a YouGov survey suggesting just 21% would be prepared to raise council tax to pay for ‘social care for the elderly’.

We all want to see social care better understood and better resourced. This shows that, while we have made a start, there is still a long, long way to go.

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