Scotland’s new population forecast figures contain good news for many of us. The recent report by the National Records of Scotland show our life expectancy is projected to increase, and there will be 240,000 more pensioners in Scotland over the next 25 years.
That more of us are looking forward to longer lives is of course to be welcomed. However, it is important to realise the care challenges which come with an older population.
For Royal Blind, and our sister charity Scottish War Blinded, this is something we are acutely aware of, as age is the biggest risk factor for sight loss conditions. There are around 188,000 people in Scotland living with significant sight loss, around three of quarters of whom are over 65, and this number is projected to increase to over 200,000 by 2030.
This means Scotland requires a social care system which can support an increasing number of people with sight loss. However, the reality is that the funding available currently for a range of social care services is not sufficient to meet today’s needs, let alone those of the future.
This is certainly true for sight loss, where there is a lack of investment in specialist rehabilitation, residential care and home care. This situation has led us to working alongside Scottish Care to raise awareness of the care requirements of thousands of people with sight loss, and to make the case for additional investment in these vital services.
Scotland is, of course, not alone in facing these pressures. In England, 39,000 fewer older people are receiving long-term care from councils than was the case three years ago despite a rise in demand, highlighting the pressure on services there. We also very much support the Scottish Government’s decision to introduce the policy of Self Directed Support, which seeks to give people more control over the care services they receive.
However, it remains the case that social care services remain the poor relation in healthcare in Scotland and, while Self Directed Support is a welcome initiative, too many people with sight loss aren’t actually able to access it or are even aware it exists.
Self Directed Support means local authorities now have a legal duty to offer people eligible for social care four options on how to use their personal budget.
The four options are direct payments – an Individual Service Fund held by the local authority and allocated to a provider of your choice, the local authority arranging support on your behalf, or a mix of these options.
This policy has the potential to benefit thousands of people with sight loss. It means they could arrange and pay directly for support services which specifically help them manage some of the impacts of their vision impairment. For many people, this will also enable them to maintain their independence and live at home for longer.
Despite its clear potential benefits, there is low awareness of Self Directed Support among many people with sight loss.
We surveyed more than 100 people with sight loss to get their views and experiences of Self Directed Support. When we asked the question “have you heard of Self Directed Support”, two thirds of respondents said they had not.
Only five respondents said they had a support plan funded through Self-Directed Support. More than 60 per cent of respondents had never been informed of the budget available to them for their care and support.
We believe this is a missed opportunity. Self Directed Support is a great policy initiative by the Scottish Government which could benefit thousands of people living with sight loss, so we are backing the call by Scottish Care for more action to raise awareness that it is available.
We also believe local authorities could do a lot more to make it easier for people to access Self Directed Support but, when their own funding for care services is under such pressure, it is perhaps unsurprising they want to retain funds within their own budget.
If we are to realise the ambition for social care which meets the needs of individuals, including people with sight loss, we must start providing levels of funding which can sustain our care services now and for the future.
Mark O’Donnell, chief executive, Royal Blind and Scottish War Blinded.