Social care in England

In England, social care is defined as the provision of social work, personal care, protection or social support services to children or adults in need or at risk, or adults with needs arising from illness, disability, old age or poverty. The main legal definitions flow from the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990, with other provisions covering disability and responsibilities to informal carers. That provision may have one or more of the following aims: to protect people who use care services from abuse or neglect, to prevent deterioration of or promote physical or mental health, to promote independence and social inclusion, to improve opportunities and life chances, to strengthen families and to protect human rights in relation to people's social needs.[1]

Since the 1990s, local commissioners (mainly based in councils) oversee a market with many different types of social care provision available, either purchased by public bodies after assessments or accessed on a self funded basis by the public. These include community support and activities, advisory services and advocacy, provision of equipment to manage disabilities, alarm systems, e.g., to manage the outcome of falls, home/domiciliary care or daycare, housing options with levels of care support attached, residential nursing home care, as well as support for informal carers.

Social care is frequently used as a synonymous term with social welfare, and as an alternative to social work.[2] The term often implies informal networks of support and assistance as well as services funded following assessments by social work and other professions.

Social care in the modern context encompasses many areas of need, each with a level of specialist services. These can be broadly categorised as follows:

  • Adults – this includes support for older people, people with mental health problems, learning or physical disabilities, those with alcohol and substance misuse problems, prevention of abuse or neglect, needs related to homelessness, domestic abuse and associated support for families and carers. Due to a range of legislation, benefit entitlement, history and supply of services, adults over the age of 65 are routinely assessed as requiring a lower "personal budget" and less favourable care than younger people with similar needs and/or disabilities.[3] This is considered ageism.[4][5]
  • Children, young people and families – this includes preventative family support and child protection services, child placement, fostering, adoption, working with young offenders, children and young people who have learning or physical disabilities, or who are homeless, as well as support for families and carers.
  • Workforce – this includes the provision of resources, training and support for those working in social care.

Social care is in the jurisdiction of the Minister of State for Social Care in the Department of Health and Social Care.


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