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What is social care, and why is it important?

Discover what social care encompasses as we take a look at the different types of social care available and what makes them so important.

A woman smiling and talking to a young boy in a wheelchair.

Everyone has the right to live a fulfilling and nourishing life – and social care plays a key role in that for many people. 

In this article, we examine what is meant by social care and explore the various types of social care available. We will also explore why such care plays an important role in society and the impact it has on many lives. 

What is social care? 

This term can be tricky to pin down as it relates to a wide variety of care types. However, we can define it as all forms of personal and practical care and assistance. 

Despite occasionally being tied to medical situations, social care is primarily aimed at supporting individuals in ways that allow them to live independently. Social care tends to be provided within peoples’ homes or in care-specific establishments, as opposed to hospitals or doctor’s surgeries. 

Social care is in place to support those who may be vulnerable, unable to support themselves or just in need of extra support. Within the UK, local authorities are legally obliged to help support those that are considered eligible for social assistance. Depending on the individual’s circumstances, social care is paid for via personal funds, government funds or a combination of the two. 

To learn about social care in more depth, you can check out our Introduction to Social Care ExpertTrack by The Open University. You’ll explore why it’s important, how to work in the sector and the significant role of unpaid carers.

How do you get social care?

If you are in need of assistance, you may be wondering how to go about acquiring social care support. The best thing to do if you are in need of support is to contact your local authority. An assessment of your needs will be carried out to determine whether or not social care is required on an individual basis, as well as financial assessments to determine who will cover it. 

What are the 6 C’s in health and social care? 

The 6 C’s are a set of values designed for all health and social care staff within the UK. The list of values is considered essential to working in a compassionate care role. So, what are the 6 C’s in health and social care? 

  • Care
  • Compassion
  • Competence
  • Communication
  • Courage
  • Commitment 

Why is legislation important in health and social care? 

Social care is a sensitive area, so legislation is absolutely crucial to keep those in need of care safe and protected. This is particularly important when working with vulnerable individuals as they may be at risk of being exploited or not having their voices heard. 

One of the key pieces of legislation within the UK is the Health and Social Care Act 2012. There are also regulatory bodies throughout the UK, overseeing the provision of care services. These regulatory bodies check social care services and ensure that national standards are being met. 

What is the duty of care in health and social care? 

The term duty of care is the legal obligation to act in the best interest of individuals rather than acting in a way that results in harm. In health and social care, this is important as the area deals with vulnerable people that may need additional care and support in order to get by. Those working with vulnerable people have a duty of care to ensure that they are treated fairly.

What is safeguarding in health and social care? 

We can define safeguarding as measures taken to protect the wellbeing, health and human rights of individuals. This means that every individual should be protected from harm, neglect and abuse. In health and social care, safeguarding is vital since social care work is often aimed at vulnerable people who may not be in a position to protect themselves from such hardships.

Safeguarding is particularly important to children and young adults, and social care often encompasses these younger individuals. 

Types of health and social care services 

As we mentioned briefly above, social care is a broad section of the care sector and covers a variety of care types. Let’s look at some of the types of social care available: 

Residential care

This type of care provides home-like environments to those in need of assistance with daily activities. This assistance could consist of washing, eating, and dressing. A residential care home is similar to a nursing home but is often better for those who do not need medical assistance. 

The key difference between the two is that nursing homes always require a registered nurse on-site to deal with any medical issues that may arise. Residential care homes provide accommodation as well as 24-hour assistance to the elderly and other adults who need extra support.

Day care

Unlike the 24-hour support provided with residential care, this type of care is just provided throughout the day. Day care centres offer assistance to those with physical and social care needs, including disabled individuals or those that need rehabilitation following an illness or accident. 

Day care centres provide support in the form of personal care for those unable to carry out their own personal care. It’s also a great place for individuals to socialise and take part in fun activities together. 

Assisted living facilities

For those that need additional support but are able to live independently, extra care housing, or assisted living, provides a great alternative to living in a residential care home. Social housing allows those with social care needs to live a fulfilling and independent life with maximum privacy and dignity. 

Extra care housing provides an accommodation-based setting whilst still providing care if residents need it. The level of care can be increased or decreased based on the individual’s needs. Other housing-based social care services include sheltered housing, supported living and shared lives. 

Community care

This type of care allows the individual to continue living independently within their own home but still offers various forms of support. This support could include help with personal tasks such as washing and dressing or domestic tasks such as cooking and cleaning. 

To continue living at home, some individuals may need to make home adjustments in the form of things like stairlifts or handrails. Community care is aimed at those who have physical disabilities, learning disabilities or mental health issues.

Who is supported by social care?  

Social care is not constricted to one particular age group – social care ranges from child protection programmes to end of life care. Adult social care and children’s social care are both available, and with lifespans reaching higher heights, there is a growing demand for services for the elderly. 

If you’re keen to learn more about working with elderly individuals, check out our Caring for Older People: a Partnership Model course. 

Children’s social care

Children and young people are supported within social care if they are disabled, need to be protected from harm or need access to a care centre or foster home. Support available includes practical assistance in the home, providing technology, home adaptations and help involving access to education. Once a child reaches 18, they will move on to adult social care services. 

Adult social care

Adult social care makes up for a large chunk of social care services. In fact, In 2019, 838,530 adults within the UK received publicly funded long-term social care assistance. There are many different forms of social care available for adults, but some include personal care, residential care, rehabilitation and day care. 

Elderly social care is also encompassed within the adult social care space but may include elderly-specific establishments. Nursing homes, for example, are specifically for those aged over 65. Staff within nursing homes will be professionally trained to deal with health issues such as dementia

If you’re interested in learning more about how nursing homes work, check out our Care Home Nursing: Changing Perceptions course. 

Why is social care important? 

Now we know what social care encompasses, let’s explore what makes social care such an important sector of the healthcare system. As we discussed above, social care is aimed at those who are vulnerable and in need of assistance. It’s crucial to allow these individuals to live fulfilling lives and provide them with the support they need. 

Quality of life

We are all entitled to live our lives to the fullest and be our best selves. For some, social care enables individuals to live normal lives and carry out tasks they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Whether it’s emotional support, physical support or social support, social care can completely change the lives of individuals and offer them experiences they wouldn’t otherwise have. 

Independence and dignity 

Social care gives everyone the opportunity to live with dignity and where possible, with as much independence as they can. This can be life-changing for many individuals that would otherwise struggle to carry out daily tasks and care for themselves, and can be a huge confidence booster. Without assistance from social care, many individuals could face isolation and struggle with confidence. 

Financial issues

For many people, social care is the only way for them to be able to care for themselves due to a lack of support and funding. By providing social support to individuals such as elderly people without savings and family support, we are able to make sure that everyone has access to basic needs without being neglected and ignored. 

It is our moral duty to make sure that everyone has equal access to the necessities and provide the highest quality of care.

What does a social care worker do? 

The social care industry would not be complete without the efforts of social care workers. But what do social workers do, and what skills do they possess? Depending on the area of social care you work in, your role as a social care worker will vary greatly. However, there are some key skills that apply to all aspects of social care work. Let’s look at some of the responsibilities social care workers may have:

  • Providing emotional support
  • Assisting with daily tasks
  • Building relationships with individuals
  • Monitoring individuals and taking note of any causes for concern
  • Organising events and taking part in outings 

These, of course, are only a handful of the potential tasks a social worker does within their role, as each role varies greatly. However, the role of a social worker is perfect for those who wish to make a difference and leave a positive impact on people’s lives. Some of the skills needed to be a social worker include: 

Future of social care 

Seeing as a lot of social care is government-funded, it will more than likely be subject to change in a variety of ways. So, what can we expect to see in the future within the social care space? 

Sadly, COVID-19 has had a huge negative impact on the social care system. What was already a struggling area is now facing a crisis due to staff shortages and funding. Social care is currently underfunded, making it difficult for those in need of care to access the support that they desperately need. 

In light of COVID-19, the UK has announced that tax contributions are to increase by 1.25% in April 2022. This increase in taxes will go towards the health and social care sector across the UK, which has suffered due to the pandemic.

Additionally, from October 2023, those who have assets worth less than £20,000 will not have to make any contributions from their savings or housing wealth. This is up by £6,000 as the current limit is £14,000. Also, those starting off with social care will not have to pay beyond £86,000 throughout their lifetime. 

Our Design Thinking in Health and Social Care course offers a great opportunity to explore how we can approach challenges in social care. 

Final thoughts

Social care clearly plays a key role in our society and can be completely life-changing for those in need of it. We hope that this article has broadened your understanding of what social care is and what makes it so important. 

If you’d like to know more about how social care works, check out our Step into Social Care course. 

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