The sociocultural framing of public attitudes to sharing the costs of social care for older people in England.
Dixon J., Exley J., Wistow G., Wittenberg R., Knapp M., Mays N.
Twelve synchronous online focus groups were conducted, each involving four to six members of the general public who had expressed in-principle support for sharing the costs of social care for older people between service users and government. These explored participants' reasons for preferring a shared approach and their views on how costs should be shared, with particular attention given to the sociocultural frames employed. Four main sociocultural frames were identified, reflecting dominant discourses concerning (i) the financial burden of meeting social care need ('scarcity' frame) (ii) the core purpose of social care ('medicalised conception of care' frame) (iii) the role and perceived limitations of the private market ('consumer' frame), and (iv) fundamental concerns about safety, security and belonging ('loss and abandonment' frame). Of these four frames, the 'scarcity' frame was dominant, with views about how costs should be shared overwhelmingly formulated upon assumptions of insufficient resources. This was reflected in concerns about affordability and the consequent need for the financial burden to be shared between individuals and government, and resulted in a residual vision for care and anxieties about care quality, cliff-edge costs and abandonment. The concept of shared funding was also employed rhetorically to suggest an equitable approach to managing financial burden, reflected in phrases such as 'splitting the difference'. Whilst out-of-pocket payments were sometimes seen as useful or necessary in the context of scarce public resources, the idea of shared funding was sometimes interpreted more flexibly to include individual contributions made in a range of ways, including tax, social insurance payments and wider social and economic contributions to society. Despite the dominance of the 'scarcity' frame, participants favoured greater government contribution than currently. These four frames and their associated discourses provide insight into how the public 'hear' and make sense of the debate about social care funding and, specifically, how apparent support for shared public-private funding is structured. Government and those hoping to influence the future of social care funding need to promote a vision of funding reform and win support for it by actively engaging with the sociocultural frames that the public recognise and engage with, with all of their apparent inconsistencies and contradictions.