Old people dancing

Charities and our social care crisis

By Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing 4 September 2014

The King’s Fund is right to say that we need urgent, radical thinking on the future of health and social care, says Lynne Berry, Chair of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing. Any effective solution will need to tap in to the forgotten potential of the voluntary sector.


Today saw the publication of a new settlement for health and social care in England, the final report from the independent Commission on the Future of Health and Social Care in England. It outlines a bold vision: a single, ring-fenced budget for health and social care which is singly commissioned, funded by tax increases on higher earners and the over 40s, and through reforms to currently universal benefits for the overs 60s.

One missing link, however, is the critically important question of who delivers this new vision and how—and of particular interest to me, what role might be afforded to the voluntary sector. Here at the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing, this is an issue on which we have been focusing. What would an ageing society mean for the voluntary sector, and the potential roles the sector could have in our society in the next ten to twenty years?

In July we brought together a roundtable of voluntary sector organisations, along with the King’s Fund, to discuss the role of the voluntary sector in this new landscape. This is a landscape very much dominated at present by the public and private sectors, and we discussed how voluntary organisations might do things differently: how they could extend thier current activity on social care and health, how they might be more proactive; and provide value through influencing decision-makers and experimenting with (and consolidating) new structures and models of voluntary sector organisation.Voluntary sector participants at our roundtable were keen to have a much wider role in health and social care, but felt they weren’t, at present, being invited to the table.

Any move to integrate health and social care has the potential, allied to the 2014 Care Act, to create huge opportunities for the voluntary sector.

These might build on the core activities of some existing charities—providing information and advice, for example—which could be expanded in the future. Some of the larger national bodies might become providers of large scale integrated health and social care services, either contracted alone or in partnership with other voluntary organisations or public and private sector partners. The sector might give a key role to beneficiaries, so that people’s experience is central to a reformed health and social care system, rather than side-lined by the focus on systems reform.

Even as its role delivering services develops, the voluntary sector can also retain its key activity of supporting informal social capital of communities. Charities can make a difference as campaigners and lobbyists; they can help raise the resilience of individuals in the world of health and social care. Our discussions also focused on how we could enable the sector to set the agenda in this area, rather than just respond to it.

While so much recent debate on ageing has focused on it as a ‘ticking time bomb’ our ageing society offers us all huge opportunities, not least in the voluntary sector. We will need to make bold decisions and take brave steps to ensure that health and social care is available to all those who need it.

The voluntary sector has a key role in supporting and delivering this. The Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing will issue its final report in March 2015, and these and other issues will form a key part of our discussions.