The most important people to consider in the future of social care 
are those who will need care and the family carers who will have to support them. 

Where social care is not provided by the state, it is left to families, friends, and neighbours – the “informal carers” – who already fill the gaps.

Family and friends who do caring work sometimes say that they are not “carers”. 

They provide care as an act of love, loyalty, duty, kindness – or even by accident – looking after an ill, older, or disabled family member, friend, partner, or someone in their community. 

But social services and the NHS already rely on these carers. Society depends on them. That means the whole system at some stage will probably depend on you, if not now, then in the future. 

The reliance on informal care has been increasing for years with no sign of reversing that trend.

Why is this? Already women have a 50:50 chance of providing care before they are 60 years old, and men do not escape entirely. 

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By the time they are 75, half of all men will be carers as well. 

For some people being older isn’t about being cared for. It’s when caring starts. It’s a far cry from what people used to think of as retirement. 

Many carers are in their 70s, 80s and even 90s. When thinking about the future of social care, we all need to ask ourselves, “How will I cope when I have to be a carer for someone in my life?” 

Avoid pain by having a plan for yourself and those you care for

The chances of this are increasing all the time because there are more people in need of care and the public purse is already under great strain.

Things could get much worse.

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If you are not already a carer, here is a fact that carers already know. 

Over and above what help you willingly give to others, there will be a financial burden on you. Families are involved in topping up care home fees, over and above what the state will pay. 

Some expenses occur without you even noticing. It starts with a little bit of help with the shopping, fuel expenses for some extra journeys to visit or carry out errands. 

Research done by Carers UK in 2020 showed that almost 40 per cent of carers are struggling to make ends meet.

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They use their own income regularly to pay for care or support services, equipment, or products for the person they care for, young or old.

Carers who are still in employment are less able to save for their retirement and might even lose opportunities for promotion at work because they take time off and are not able to have a total focus on their career. 

That will affect their pension and have a knock-on effect on their need for care in the future. In the middle of this there are great discussions taking place about radical change in the current care systems. 

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You will hear about health and social care integration, co-production, personalisation, human rights, culture change, governance, capacity-building, participation, engagement, and so on. 

For the carer sitting in her car outside her parent’s house, exhausted after a day at work and gathering her strength to go in and cook, clean, and do laundry, all this sounds like jargon.

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For people with no current caring responsibilities, it might be a bore to think about it. Ignoring your future might be OK for some, but short-sighted for others.

In the light of the uncertainty about the future of social care there are two things for us all to attend to if we humanly can. 

Money and family conversations. In the face of uncertainty, work on the assumption that there will be increased need and public funding will be just as stretched as before. 

Anyone who has the capacity to make plans should do so now. 

Daughters, talk to your brothers and sisters about who will lead on care for your parents if the need arises. 

Think about the different roles each person could lead on. If you don’t, you may end up falling into a role in any case. Parents, talk to your children about what you expect in the future and how it will be resourced.

Get your affairs in order with powers of attorney that can be invoked if you become incapable. Share the information your family will need now, so that they don’t have to hunt for it later.

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And for those without family… now is the time to make some friends. The state hopefully will always provide for people without family or friends, but you can’t be sure what will be provided or whether you will like it.

I hope that those who are campaigning for tax increases to provide the billions that will be needed for their image of the future of social care will succeed. 

I pray that everyone will be happy to pay those taxes.

It would be great if those who believe the problems are caused by the way the NHS heroes and social care warriors are currently doing their jobs could find them a better way of doing it.

Most of us don’t have the bandwidth to comprehend the complexity of their highly skilled and exacting work, carried out in the public spotlight and constantly criticised. I do have these great hopes and dreams.

But given that we don’t always get what we hope for, my advice to everyone is this. Work on the assumption that the future of social care is going to require even greater self-reliance, and plan accordingly. 

Use whatever resource you have and avoid pain by having a plan for yourself and those you care for.

Stay fit both mentally and physically as much as in your control and be part of a community that you can help, and which will help you when the time comes. And don’t rely on crossed fingers.

Professor June Andrews is the author of Carers and Caring The One Stop Guide.