Minister insists Government backs social care amid warning sector has fallen down list of priorities

The minister for social care has insisted the Government backs the sector after a new report argued it had dropped down the list of priorities in favour of tackling inflation, higher bills and public sector pay strikes.

The research, from Care England and the Hft care provider for people with learning disabilities, said adult social care is “on the precipice” when it comes to costs, with 42% of those surveyed having had to close down part of their organisation or hand back contracts to local authorities due to financial pressures.

Helen Whately told an audience of people working in the sector that they must “seize this moment” following the “record-breaking” £7.5 billion funding announced in the autumn statement.

But her speech at the Care England conference in London on Thursday came a day after the Chancellor’s spring statement was criticised for failing to mention social care.

Professor Martin Green, who heads up Care England – the largest representative body for independent providers of adult social care in the country – said Wednesday’s Budget had been a missed opportunity to “with a notable lack of any announcements targeted at the sector” as he said a “political consensus must be forged on how to fund and support our vital sector sustainably over the long term”.

Ms Whately (pictured) told those gathered: “Crucially, I’m here as part of a Government that backs social care. We’ve got a former health and social care secretary as chancellor and we have got record-breaking funding – £7.5 billion for adult social care and discharge over the next two years committed back at the autumn statement.

“This is the biggest funding increase for social care in history. So we have to seize this moment.”

The survey, which ran during December and January, heard from providers including those which care for adults with learning disabilities, physical disabilities and for older people.

It stated: “The adult social care sector is on the precipice. In 2022, 82% of adult social care providers were either in deficit or experienced a decrease in their surplus.

“Of those who reported a decline in their surplus, almost half (45%) reported that it would turn into a deficit within two years.”

Workforce pay was cited as the most significant cost pressure for providers, while utility costs were also a problem with such costs having soared by as much as 500% for some, the report said.

Due to cost pressures, a third of providers considered leaving the market last year while among smaller providers, which have fewer than 250 employees, the statistic rose to almost half.

The report said that almost one quarter of providers said they offered care to fewer individuals as a cost-saving measure.

Despite 92% of providers stating that their most significant cost pressure was workforce pay, the low level of pay for care staff was also considered to be the biggest barrier to recruitment and retention, the report said.

The report said that high staff turnover and vacancy rates are impacting people who need care, with almost one fifth (18%) of providers stating that they had to close services due to staff shortages, 58% having turned down admissions due to shortages and 69% having increased the use of agency staff as a result.

Some 42% of providers reported a drop in the number of applications for care staff in 2022, and Care England said it is “clear that pay is the key driving force behind this”.

They recommended that the Government develops a pay framework to establish a minimum care wage, above the level of the National Living Wage and tied to NHS band 3.

Ms Whately said the care workforce is social care’s “greatest asset” but she acknowledged the “great challenges” on recruitment and retention of staff.

She said international recruitment had helped to fill some gaps in the workforce but she accepted it is “not the whole answer”, adding that the “homegrown workforce is absolutely essential”.

The minister said care workers must be “valued” and have access to high quality training allowing them to progress in their jobs so they are “more likely to stay in care”.

In their joint foreword to the report, Prof Green and Hft charity chief executive Kirsty Matthews said adult social care appeared to “fall down the list of priorities in 2022”.

They said: “The winding down of one turbulent period (the pandemic) was swiftly met by another – a cost-of-living crisis, characterised by spiralling inflation, catastrophic increases to utility bills and accompanying public sector pay strikes.

“While adult social care was propelled to the fore during the pandemic, it has seemed to fall down the list of priorities in 2022.

“Political and financial efforts have been focused on tackling these national challenges, with very limited acknowledgement of the value of adult social care either intrinsically or in terms of its central role in supporting the National Health Service and wider economy.”

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