In our second manifesto response, Mary Wimbury explores how to set minimum standards of access for all public services and essential utilities through the lens of her work and experience of social care.

Getting the right care and support in coast and country areas can be challenging. These are people-focussed services, and the low population density and limited travel options can constrain what’s available. For example, if someone needs to move to a specialist care home the only one available could be 50 miles away. That doesn’t just mean an individual being taken out of their community – it makes it more challenging for others in the community to visit and keep in contact with them.

Similarly, the distances travelled to deliver care in someone’s home mean we need to make better use of highly skilled workers who can multi-task rather than expecting increasing specialisation. Post-pandemic I’m sure we will make better use of technology, but some services just need someone there on the ground to deliver them. However, that person could be a navigator, working with a remote specialist much more frequently than happened pre-Covid.

One of the challenges of policy making in opposition is ensuring policies fit the seats we need to win as well as those we currently hold. We need to ensure we bring people into the process to think about how new policies would play in coast and country areas, and every policy needs to be “rural proofed”.

When we are providing care and support in local communities, we need to find ways of facilitating what people need in a person-centred way that includes their location. Delivering a service differently shouldn’t mean it’s a second class service, but one that better meets their need, given where they live. There’s been some great work on outcomes-focussed care, looking at what matters to the individual. And this needs us to reassess what equal access to services means too.

If someone needs care, it’s not equal access if it’s 50 miles away or relies on two people co-ordinating to arrive at a two-handed call at the same time in a rural location, compared to a town or a city. It may require us to spend more or be more inventive to give the same access to staying in your own home. It may be as simple as prioritising a modern, more advanced (and dearer) hoist for a rural dweller. We also need to look at regulation and assess what impacts it may have. Do the registration requirements for domiciliary care services make it harder to deliver more bespoke local services, or to take over or set up a care enterprise as a community-owned facility? Are there ways we can flex these while maintaining appropriate safety and standards?

We need to recognise social care for the benefit it can bring to communities too: workers spending money in the local area and enabling other people to work by caring for their loved ones. Growing local businesses in rural areas has been a key part in the Welsh Labour government’s economic strategy, with care as one of its priority areas. A 2018 report commissioned by Skills for Care indicates the economic value social care can bring, as well as recognising that the more we pay workers in the sector the greater the economic benefit. Labour administrations across the UK are looking to increase the pay of social care workers to match their importance and responsibilities. This can disproportionately benefit coast and country areas.

Mary Wimbury works in social care, is a Labour activist in North Wales and is standing for Labour’s Conference Arrangements Committee

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