Social care could pass the point of no return in 2018 unless the Government orders emergency action to support the sector ahead of any reforms arising from its promised green paper.
Directors of adult social services are warning that tens of thousands more older and disabled people will go without the support they need next year – and many working adults will have to give up jobs to help care for their parents – if urgent steps are not taken to back the sector with special interim funding and a new national strategy to recruit and retain care workers and nurses for nursing homes.
So many organisations that provide care are quitting the sector because of low returns and severe recruitment problems that directors fear the damage will become irreversible in 2018.
Margaret Willcox, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), said: “We eagerly await the green paper on support of older people and the extensive reforms that are needed to place social care on a sustainable long-term footing. But we must have action in the short term to ensure that the system can survive.
“The crisis facing us is so acute that we fear social care could pass the point of no return in 2018 while we wait for decisions to be made.”
ADASS has welcomed the Government’s commitment to the green paper on care and support of older people – and to a parallel programme of work on meeting the support needs of younger adults – and the £2 billion emergency funding announced for the sector in the Budget last spring, half of which is available this year.
The greater flexibility to raise council tax that was given to local councils in last week’s local government finance settlement will do very little to help, however, and will be of minimal benefit to areas with lower property values where care needs are often greatest.
But directors are reporting that providers continue to hand back contracts for home care and refuse to accept admissions to care homes at rates councils can afford. In a growing number of areas in England, it is becoming extremely difficult to find providers willing to take on home care work.
ADASS is warning that the sector cannot wait until reforms resulting from the green paper. The consultative document is not due until next summer and any decisions are unlikely before 2019 at the earliest.
Ministers have already promised to produce an interim carers’ action plan to support the 6.5 million unpaid carers without whose commitment the system would collapse. Directors are calling on the Government to honour that promise speedily and build on it with interim packages for funding and workforce.
On funding, ADASS says that the one-off £2 billion will do nothing to close the sector’s funding gap, estimated independently to be on course to reach £2.1 billion by 2020. By the end of March 2018, councils in England will have made cumulative savings in adult social care of more than £6 billion since 2010.
On workforce, a concerted initiative is needed to address the sector’s turnover rate of almost 28% and the 90,000 job vacancies reported every day. Ministers need to give strong backing to Skills for Care, the sector skills agency, which is consulting in January on ideas for a national recruitment strategy.
Margaret Willcox, who is director of adult social care in Gloucestershire, said: “Directors are witnessing the human cost of a sector in crisis. One of our biggest concerns is the growing problem of social isolation of older people who in the past might have been eligible for some form of support.
“I was alerted to a woman repeatedly ordering goods to be delivered to her home. They thought she might be being exploited, but it emerged that she was doing it just to have the human contact of a brief conversation in the doorstep.”
Glen Garrod, ADASS vice-president and executive director of adult care and community wellbeing in Lincolnshire, said some older people in parts of the county were having to go into short-stay residential care because of inability to recruit care workers to support them in their homes.
“Finding care workers to do four visits a day, seven days a week, in parts of Lincolnshire is really a great challenge now. We are left with no alternative other than to ask people to consider accepting a short term residential care package until suitable home care can be found.”