Whatever your take on current social care debates, there's one point on which everyone can agree.

By 2030, things really are going to be different.

The answers to two key questions will determine just what will be different, and how.

The first is whether the changes will mainly be driven by economic and technical considerations or shaped by the needs and expectations of people receiving care, their families and friends, and the wider community.

The second is whether we really will have brought health and social care services together to meet those needs effectively.

There's no doubt about the scale of the challenge here, but also no excuse not to seize the opportunities the future will hold.

Information and signposting

Recent discussions about the future funding of social care have exposed how limited the information most people have about services is, and how opaque the system and its processes are. Whatever the shape of future services, it's vital that policymakers, commissioners and providers think about information and signposting during both design and delivery.

We also need to grasp this chance to help individuals, families and communities understand more about how social care currently works, so we can all have a voice in shaping public plans as well as planning our own future options. That means a cultural shift away from a world where eligibility criteria are tightened in ways people aren't aware of until they need a service, towards a system where the balance between public and personal provision is clear and so are the consequences of how we strike that balance.

What is it like to live in a care home?

These themes about people’s individual needs and preferences have come through strongly in recent Healthwatch work on care homes1.

Fundamentally, anyone using social care services in the future – in a care home or in their own home - will still need access to the right support for them, when and how they need it. That is why we need to turn long-held aspirations about health and care integration into concrete progress. There are promising signs from the care home "vanguards" established under the New Care Models programme2. But unless accountable care organisations and systems and sustainability and transformation partnerships really do take this integration work further, we will look back from 2030 and regret an importance chance that we missed.

The prize if we get care right

Technology is creating exciting new possibilities in this arena and has the potential to help us crack some of the wickedest issues in social care - but only if we use it intelligently, strategically and in support of the needs articulated by service users.

It will be a crucial enabler of the joined-up services people need and expect. With the right leadership and motivation it could help people who want to stay in their own homes do that for longer and with better support. Equally, it has the potential to end the "out of sight, out of mind" culture that has allowed social care to have too low a profile for too long and - just as importantly - has too often disconnected residents of care homes from their communities.

The prize of a care system that is part of and supports people's lives, rather than a separate service outside the life of the community, is worth striving for. We will only secure that prize if people have their say now and in the future about the services that will work for all of us.

The Healthwatch network is stepping up to play its vital part in making that happen. Let your local Healthwatch know3 about your experiences of care in the present. Just as importantly, tell us about what could work better for you in the future.

It starts with you.

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The views expressed in this blog are those of the blog’s author alone and do not necessarily represent those of Independent Age. Independent Age is not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied in blogs by external contributors.

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