Looking after people, creating jobs, growing the economy – the hidden economic power of adult social care

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Looking after people, creating jobs, growing the economy

It is a sector that is one of the biggest employers in the country, by some estimates employing more people than the NHS, it contributes literally billions of pounds to the West Midlands’ economy and demand for its services will grow and grow for the foreseeable future. In the West Midlands alone around 160,000 people already work from 4,100 locations and it is estimated that demand for their services is such, that by 2030 somewhere between 45,000 and 70,000 new jobs will need to be filled. To put the scale of this operation in context, the sector employs more people in the West Midlands than are employed in the automotive industry across the UK. Health and social care was also one of only six strategic goals identified by the independent Industrial Strategy Commission and yet – with the region’s unemployment and employment ratios stubbornly at the wrong ends of their respective spectrums – until recently you will have scarcely seen a mention of adult social care in local economic plans or skills strategies.

 

While it is probably little surprise that adult social care has not generally taken centre stage in discussions about the the economy, the Industrial Strategy Commission said that the UK’s health and social care system was “an obvious focus for industrial strategy”, highlighting it alongside more usual suspects such as high-value industries, exports and infrastructure. Taking a different tack, the Government’s recently published Industrial Strategy placed “harnessing the power of innovation to help meet the needs of an ageing society” as one of four “Grand Challenges” that are “set to transform industries and societies around the world”. As such, the strategy looks to support businesses take advantage of the opportunities by creating new technologies, products and services. The Strategy also highlights the need to realise the potential in the labour market of women, older workers, carers and disabled people, as well as supporting care providers to adapt business models and encourage new models of care to “develop and flourish”.

 

With challenging economic and social aspirations across the West Midlands and the Government looking to agree Local Industrial Strategies, it seems the time is right to broaden the way adult social care is thought of and to see how the sector’s multi-billion pound economy can be used to help achieve wider social and economic objectives. To help this process, this special edition of WMiC takes a look and reflects on some of the reports, statistics and initiatives which shine a light on the scale and reach of this often overlooked, but vital part of the region’s economy.

 

Growing pains

Beyond the vital questions about how publicly supported services will be funded in the future, there is perhaps a second order of questions. Among these might be how meeting demand could be better integrated as a fundamental part of place-shaping activities, looking to see how it can contribute to wider socio-economic aims in the same way that the sector would want to see other activities contribute to health and well-being. In doing so, we might find other benefits feeding back in terms of increased community resilience and more and better jobs, as well as finding new ways to make the pounds stretch that bit further.

 

Whether a wider perspective of adult social care is taken or not, population projections for the West Midlands show substantial increases in the over 65 and over 75 age groups, cohorts that are strongly related to care needs. Indeed, in October the national projections from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) suggest that the number of people aged 85 or more will double between 2016 and 2041, rising from 1.6 million to 3.2 million. Not only that, but medical improvements also mean that more and more people are living with impairments or with or beyond serious illness. Public Health England’s report on cancer in the West Midlands suggested that by 2030 there will be some 135,000 people living with or beyond cancer in the region. A considerable increase on the 89,000 in 2014.

 

 

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