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Social care reform will rely on good quality data

Posted on 07 July 2011 .
Tags: English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, Health Survey for England, QDT, Questionnaire Development and Testing Hub, social care

On Monday the Dilnot Commission published its much anticipated report on the future of social care funding in the UK. There’s widespread agreement that the current funding system is broken and needs complete reform, but opinion on how exactly this can be achieved seems divided. Concerns have already been raised about the potential cost to the tax payer of implementing the report’s recommendations. And there are signs that reform may not proceed at the pace urged by the Commissioners.

Putting aside for a moment the important question of how social care should be funded in the UK, the report authors recognise a problem that speaks directly to the work I do in NatCen’s Questionnaire Development and Testing Hub, when they point out ‘that there is shortage of precise data on the extent to which (care) needs are currently met’.

This data deficit was identified by those involved in creating the original economic models on which the Commission’s findings are based. As a result, back in 2009 the Nuffield Foundation funded a collaborative project between NatCen, the PSSRU at LSE and the University of Kent, and the University of East Anglia to develop a new module of questions about social care for use on population surveys. This proved a really fruitful collaboration, and after a period of intensive reviewing and testing, this year the Health Survey for England includes questions on social care for the over 65s. These questions pin down complex information about the extent to which care needs are met by paid and unpaid arrangements, and how care is paid for. Plans are currently underway to include these questions on the next round of English Longitudinal Study of Ageing interviews. And it’s intended that these questions will continue to be asked in future waves of both surveys.

The data collected from care receivers and those who provide unpaid care will answer some of the current problems identified in the Dilnot report:

  • We know that the number of people with care requirements is rising, and these data will help us understand the rate of this increase;
  • We know that there are people in society with unmet care needs, and these data will give us a better sense of just how many people are in this position;
  • We also know that there’s a growing burden on unpaid carers, and that there are inequalities in services and funding across different local authorities. These data will help clarify exactly what this burden looks like and what these inequalities are.
  • Detailed data on how care is paid for, the balance of self-funded and state funded care, and what type of care it is, will also be made available as a result of these questions.


Findings from the Health Survey for England and English Longitudinal Study of Ageing social care module of questions will give us an invaluable insight into the current state of our social care system. This data could inform implementation of the Commission’s recommendations and in the long term provide a baseline against which the impacts of the reforms are measured.

Whatever the shape of the reforms, future analysis and debate will depend on good quality data, and this is at the heart what we do at Natcen. If you’re interested in our work generally, or would like to talk to someone about using the social care questions on a survey please post a comment or get in touch with me directly on margaret.blake@natcen.ac.uk.

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