Social care providers turning down admissions and closing services in face of ‘perfect storm’ – report

Social care providers are being forced to turn down admissions and even shut services as they face a “perfect storm” of workforce challenges and rising costs, according to a new report.

Learning disability charity Hft said its research found that three quarters of care providers in the sector turned down new admissions to services in 2021, while more than a third had to close their services permanently, partly due to an average staff vacancy rate of nearly 16%.

Almost all providers believe that pay rises could help recruitment and retention of staff, but most believe the fees they receive from local authorities to deliver care will not be enough to cover their wage bills, said the report.

“Social care staff should be paid a fair wage, one which is commensurate with the responsibilities of the job and that will help reduce high turnover and vacancy rates in the sector,” said Hft chief executive Kirsty Matthews.

“Despite the introduction of a higher national living wage earlier in April, record inflation means that, in real terms, most front-line staff will not see a pay uplift and workforce challenges will persist as employees cope with the cost of living increase.”

One in 10 providers will need to cover 20% of their wage bill from their own reserves, rather than through fees paid by local authorities to deliver the right standard of care to those they support, according to the research.

The sector is in an “increasingly precarious” financial position, with 71% of providers reporting being in deficit or seeing any surplus decrease, said Hft.

The charity called on the Government to urgently redirect additional funds from the Health and Social Care Levy into social care to ensure there is enough funding to cover wages which reflect the real-term cost of living and attract more workers.

More than 20 chief executives of learning disability care providers are supporting this call through a joint letter to the Government.

Dr Rhidian Hughes, chief executive of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, said: “This year’s Hft Sector Pulse Report clearly exposes the extent to which rising cost pressures and critical workforce challenges are impacting on social care providers and the essential care and support services they deliver for disabled people and their families.

“Consequently, voluntary sector services in particular are becoming unviable, and it is people who draw on social care, and the workforce supporting them, who will be hit the hardest.

“The provision of high-quality care and support services for people with lifelong disabilities is the hallmark of an equitable society that supports and protects its citizens.

“This must be rooted in a robust and sustainable social care system that has embedded within in it, investment, and support for voluntary sector services.”

Jackie O’Sullivan, executive director of communications, advocacy and activism at the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “This report is really worrying – many people with a learning disability and their families rely on some form of social care to live but the system has been ravaged by the pandemic, and now the cost of living crisis is creating even more challenges.

“With the right support, people with a learning disability can live brilliant, fulfilled, independent and healthy lives. But, without it, many people can struggle which can lead to a deterioration of their physical and mental health. And with services still closed and staff spread too thin, people’s lifelines to the outside world are being cut off.

“The Government needs to take urgent action now to relieve the pressures on the sector – including more funding both for providers to meet the increased costs of delivery and to support decent pay rises for care workers who need better reward and recognition immediately.”

The report was based on 62 social care providers.

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