It has been long acknowledged that our population is ageing. Policy developments in adult social care in Great Britain have been influenced by this demographic change and along with this, service users now want greater choice and control over the care services they receive. The government agenda to make services more ‘person-centred’ or ‘personalisation’ has been at the heart of much policy debate in Great Britain and further afield. Frequently associated with person-centred principles, adult social care policy in England, Scotland and Wales have upheld a political commitment to achieve person-centred care for older users. Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, policy developments have not progressed at the same pace as the rest of the UK and there has been less emphasis on a person-centred strategy. While there has been reference to ‘personalisation’ in Northern Ireland’s policy documents: Transforming Your Care and Who Cares: The Future of Adult Social Care and Support in Northern Ireland, neither review included an explicit definition of personalisation as it might be realised or implemented beyond broad support for the idea of greater independence and a voice for older users.
One problem that adult social care in Northern Ireland faces is the current framework which community care operates under. First introduced in 1990, People First: Community Care in Northern Ireland continues to be the main legislation that community care works under despite being developed more than twenty years ago. This was designed for an entirely different set of needs and is no longer compatible with the current government’s drive towards providing social care users with the control to choose the services they want, tailored to individual needs. Recent research from The Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland in 2015 recognised that the effect of an outdated legislation has the potential to disadvantage older people, in both the understanding of social care services that are available to them and in terms of how to access these services.
The divergence emerging between each region in the UK in terms of the nature and pace of implementing a policy framework that supports older social care users emphasises a sense of urgency to reform adult social care policy in Northern Ireland. This is currently underway through a ‘three-stage’ process. However, this appears to be making slow progress, with the first stage completed in 2013 and no new consultations since then. It is yet to be seen what approach this reform will take and what the impact will be for older social care users. Nonetheless, Northern Ireland remains in a good position as it has the opportunity to learn from the rest of the UK to ensure that implementation can be fit for purpose in an era of shifting responsibilities towards the community rather than the traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ model which arguably still influences adult social care in Northern Ireland today.
Social Science Research Graduate School, Ulster University