Woking Mayor Will Forster introduces (from left) Sinead Mooney, Alan Clyne and Helyn Clack.
FIFTY people came to discuss this important issue and we welcomed the Mayor of Woking, Will Forster, who chaired the debate. The debate was opened with a tribute to Mary Holdstock, a founder of the debates and an active peace campaigner for many years, by Sian Jones. Mary passed away, aged 83, on Friday, December 28, after a life of involvement with many local organisations, notably the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Woking United Nations Association and Woking Local Agenda 21. The first speaker was Sinead Mooney, Surrey County Council’s executive member with responsibility for adult social care, a post she took over just last month. All county councils face enormous financial challenges, she said. Some extra help has been provided by the Government but the gap is still widening. The Government has just announced a 10-year health plan. It emphasises integrated care which Surrey is one of the leaders in but demand for social care is steadily increasing. There is to be an increased investment in primary care. There is a shortage of staff. Social care staff are low paid and there is a big turnover of staff resulting in increased training needs. Tough decisions need to be taken by Surrey County Council. Surrey is in the best 25% in the country for returning people from hospital to their homes. New developments are using IT in more sophisticated ways. British Gas is using Alexa to tackle social isolation. Tracking devices for the elderly are being introduced. Helyn Clack, Surrey County Council’s vice chair, followed. She was until recently chair of the health and wellbeing Board. She said 65% of the county council's expenditure is spent on health and social care. Health has been devolved to Surrey. The only other example of this happening is in Manchester. Surrey is working to get services to come together to help the individual user so people are treated holistically. Woking Community Hospital is an example of a health centre offering many services. It is important to get people home quickly. We have a growing elderly population. The new 10-year plan is a strategic plan focusing on healthy lives and public health will increase its campaigns on obesity, sexual health and mental health. Alan Clyne, from UNISON, is by profession a social worker and now works full time for the union, representing the 500 members who work in health and social care. The council recognises the value of union representation, he said. Sometimes the union works against council policy campaigning against the closure of the six adult homes run by the county. Eight homes previously run by Anchor Management are coming back into Council management in April. The title of the debate was Who Cares? Alan believes that the councillors care and are doing a thankless task at the moment. The people in the room who came to hear the debate care and the workers care. The general public also care but other aspects of life get in their way. In spite of the massive expenditure on social care only a small number of people receive these services. National government has been cutting down expenditure for the last 30 years. The green paper on social care has been delayed for over a year. Of the 33,000 jobs in social care in Surrey, only 6% are employed by the county directly. All the others are employed by private companies who have to make a profit. The average age of the work force is 43. 18% are European Union nationals but not UK citizens and 16% are non EU nationals. Six million people in England are carers.
Audience members contribute to the debate.
Surrey County Council has a new chief executive, a new corporate management body and a new council leader. It is very aspirational but has a huge budget deficit and Surrey is going to have to do more with less. It is all well and good to say people should not feel left behind but they are. The council is currently consulting on what services it should cut including disabled bus passes and some recycling centres. Alan finished by giving two individual stories of the difference social care can make to people's lives. The debate was now opened to the floor. One person spoke of his own experiences and of his father's and was very grateful for the care he had been given. This emphasised the importance of social care and the role of the voluntary sector which often provides this, the need for partnership working and the need for good health plans for people in hospital. Too many people are still dying in hospital. The delay in the green paper is expensive when it costs about £500 to keep a person in hospital compared to perhaps £200 to support a person at home per night. District nursing is good but overstretched. Many care workers could get as much working at Sainsbury’s. Over 1,600 people are transitioning over to adult social care who will need assistance for the rest of their lives. The county council wants to integrate these people into normal society. An example is The Grange at Great Bookham, which has very good staff and volunteers. The European Fund encourages employers to take on more staff with learning difficulties. The importance of having proper advocacy to help people get the right care was discussed. The councillors were invited to come and see how the system works and were happy to take up the invitation. The county has lobbied the Government about the social care budget. The social care force needs to double by 2035 to keep up with demand. We need a national conversation on pay and to raise the status of social care workers. The county might have just got £10 million extra from the Government but has lost £100 million in national funding since austerity began or 50% of its grant. With increased needs this has resulted in a funding gap of over £200 million. If Surrey with 11 Conservative MPs, county council and a national Conservative government cannot get the help it needs, how can the rest of the country? In summing up, Alan spoke of the value of meeting the councillors for the first time to discuss these issues. Sinead spoke about taking away what she had heard and looking to see how these points could be addressed and the value of volunteers. Helyn talked about the value of these conversations and the need to hear and engage with people.