Government has ‘lost any sense of focus and direction’ on reforming social care, says expert

The Government has been accused of lacking “direction and focus” on social care reform after it sought to address confusion over controversial spending plans announced earlier this month.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has confirmed that about 20% of the £700 million already earmarked for the next two years will be held back until the impact of various measures are assessed.

This is in addition to a further sum of at least £600 million of the £1.7 billion announced by Boris Johnson’s government in 2021 for vital reforms also remaining unallocated.

The “next steps” for reform published on April 4, which the Government said would build on pledges made in the People at the Heart of Care White Paper published in December 2021, were widely criticised for halving investment in the social care workforce to £250 million.

The plan specified an initial minimum spend totalling £572 million on various measures, about 80% of the £700 million stated in the policy paper, leading to questions over the remaining funding.

The DHSC said these measures include “at least” £250 million for workforce reforms, more than £100 million for digitising social care, and £102 million for housing support.

In addition, up to £50 million was allocated for improving data and £35 million each for innovation and for joining up support services.

But the policy paper also mentions a further £15 million for accessing international recruitment, £3 million for supporting volunteers, and £25 million for “additional” support for unpaid carers.

The DHSC has confirmed that these funding pledges are included in the categories for the minimum £572 million allocation.

Simon Bottery (pictured), senior fellow at the King’s Fund think tank, said the figures show social care is being “short-changed” due to the gap between the original pledge of £1.7 billion in funding to “fix” the sector and current spending plans.

“Overall, it confirms the picture of a Government that has lost any sense of direction and focus on reform of social care reform,” he said.

Mr Bottery said this funding gap is likely to include a £100 million cut caused by the loss of savings the Government was expecting to make from the now-postponed cap on care costs and changes to the means test.

He added that the DHSC has confirmed it has already spent £300 million of the funding allocated in 2021 but has not clarified where the money went.

On the remaining funding, Mr Bottery said: “It is most likely to go into short-term measures to shore up the existing system, and, in particular, to reduce delayed discharges from hospital, rather than towards the widescale reform of social care that (the Government) promised when it came into office.

“It is a mark of this loss of direction that it is still developing delivery and spending plans 16 months after its original White Paper was published.”

Mr Bottery said there is concern over a lack of clarity on planned spending at a time when “all the trends in adult social care are going in the wrong direction”.

He added: “We have more people asking for support, but fewer people getting it. We have got the highest vacancy rate the sector has ever seen and we have got the lowest public satisfaction with adult social care since we started collecting data.

“The Government came in with a promise to fix social care and it talked about a programme for reform, but what is happening is the reform has been scaled back and scaled back and is now a fragment of the overall package.

“That is a damning indictment of the Government’s social care strategy.”

In a foreword to the next steps plan, social care minister Helen Whately said: “For decades, adult social care has not had the attention, resource or support from Government that it deserves. But we are changing that.”

A DHSC spokesman said: ““We are committed to bettering care for everyone and are supporting social care with up to £7.5 billion over the next two years.

“This month we set out the next steps in our plan to reform social care, backed by £700 million over the next two years to put people at the heart of care.

“Our remaining funding, up to £600 million, has not yet been allocated.

“We are considering how best to use this, including further investment in workforce, and will target this remaining funding on measures that will have the most impact.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2023, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) The King’s Fund.