This post was published on the Local Government Association blog as a very quick response to the government social care white paper; it is not particularly profound or in depth. As noted at the post’s original home the views do not necessarily represent anyone or anything else, so all lack of insight is my own.

All too often we let our emotional attachment to the welfare state get in the way of the urgent need for reform.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley is incredibly brave – it’s always going to be politically harder for a Conservative to implement reform – but absolutely right to tackle how we approach social care.

Even before the Barnet graph of doom became a local government cliché we knew that social care costs were absorbing increasing, and alarming, shares of council budgets. In a time when retirement can last as long as a working life, and the frailties of extreme old age require specialist and scarily expensive care, something has to change.

Much as I believe in localism, and the inevitable consequence that councils offer different levels of service, it is hard to justify differing levels of care for the elderly based on borough boundaries. A minimum standard, as proposed by the care white paper, helps address that. But far more important are the guarantees given to individuals to allow them to manage their own care budget. Care will have to be provided for the benefit of the individual because they are involved in managing it.

The role of carers will be recognised, with their needs assessed to ensure they do not suffer just because they are looking after a loved one. Aside from the savings this will create, it is an obvious fact that care from a loved one will almost always be better than care from anywhere else.

Equally important is the right for everyone to get a loan, secured against their home, and not have to sell their home while still alive to fund their care. Combined with the other white paper proposals, it will give older people a greater chance of maintaining their dignity and independence throughout their old age.

Many of these proposals already work well in councils across the country and while there are still uncertainties (not least a decision on capping costs) that should not stop us welcoming the move towards a better system of social care that is fit for our times and provides improved care and certainty for those who need it.

Last night’s Wandsworth Local Strategic Partnership heard about the planning for next year’s census, despite it being well over a year away.

The 2011 census is going to be undertaken in much the same way as they were when they first started in the nineteenth century (and try as I might, I’m not sure I can think of a better way without it being hideously labour intensive) basically every household gets mailed a form which they have to complete and return. And if they don’t, someone knocks on their door to chase it up.

But that system brought problems in the 2001 census, which significantly undercounted the population in Wandsworth and many other boroughs. This has severe consequences, since many government grants and other funding is linked to census data – so if that’s underreporting, the council is then underfunded. We had a long battle with the Office of National Statistics over our population date following the 2001 census.

And Wandsworth is full of people who may well escape the census. From the twenty-somethings who are renting and moving regularly who just don’t get round to completing it and then move and move again before anyone realises, to some of the recent immigrant communities who may be suspicious of the state’s motives or may not understand English.

Obviously employing the right people, with local knowledge, to undertake the follow-ups will help – but I’m not sure that the Wandsworth population has become any more stable in the intervening 10 years, there’s still significant churn and still significant groups of fairly recent immigrants, so it’s something we’ll have to be watching closely.