Unfortunately, social care service users have not got the ear of government, says Peter Beresford. Photograph: James Darell/Getty Images

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “There’s a deafening silence of service users in the social care funding consultation” was written by Peter Beresford, for guardian.co.uk on Thursday 22nd September 2011 11.30 Europe/London

The government has scheduled a new white paper on social care for April next year. It will pull together key recent recommendations for the radical reform of social care funding, legislation and delivery systems. At a King’s Fund health thinktank conference on Tuesday, A New Future For Social Care?, Emily Thornberry MP, Labour’s shadow care spokesperson, made a plea to return to traditional parliamentary procedures. “In the past, we’d have had a green paper, then a public consultation, then a white paper,” she said. “Now we’re moving straight to a white paper.”

The government has also announced an “engagement” exercise, which will take place over the autumn. Caring for Our Future: Shared Ambitions for Care and Support is presented as “an engagement with people who use care and support services, carers, local councils, care providers, and the voluntary sector about the priorities for improving care and support”. It is scheduled to run until early December.

Six “key leaders from the care and support community” have been selected to help lead discussion over six key areas. One leader comes from a carers’ organisation. There is a representative from the private insurance industry, and from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services. So local government, the private and voluntary sectors and carers are all represented. Yet there is not one service user or representative of a service user-led organisation. This, despite all the government’s talk of “user-led services”, “choice and control” and “nothing about you without you”.

The Department of Health says it is committed to “co-production” with service users and their organisations. It even set up its own co-production group, made up of service users and carers, which has played a constructive role in taking forward the personalisation agenda.

Why, then, aren’t service users central to this social care consultation which will form the basis of a crucial white paper? What consequences might this have? Service users and their organisations have long argued that the most effective and inclusive consultations are the ones they are involved in.

Perhaps the government feels it already knows what social care service users have to say. We know that many disabled people have fared particularly badly under the cuts to welfare benefits. A recent Demos report highlights that some local authorities are scoring much worse than others in protecting disabled people from being overly disadvantaged by cuts in local services.

Or might it be that service users’ views are increasingly seen as too hot to handle by government? While the Dilnot Commission, like New Labour funding proposals before it, rules out free social care paid for by general taxation, this proposal has long commanded strong support from service users, their organisations and allies.

Perhaps the real issue is a political reluctance to encourage any further pressure towards putting social care funding on the same footing as that which has made the NHS the success it is? Even though this might offer the only sustainable high quality social care likely to gain public consensus.

• Peter Beresford is professor of social policy at Brunel University

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