Inaction by the Government in its approach to the social care workforce in England has been roundly criticised in a new report from the National Audit Office
United Kingdom Homecare Association welcomed the NAO report for highlighting that a lack of action by the Department of Health and Social Care has not achieved value for money. The Association notes that NAO adds weighty evidence to the repeated calls for Government to establish how much funding the social care sector needs and to produce a robust and properly funded national workforce strategy that will support the growth in care worker numbers required to meet increasing demand.
Front-line social care workers and their managers find the work they do to support older and disabled people highly rewarding, yet the status of social care work is not properly recognised in society, nor is the contribution that the social care sector makes to the economy, both through employment opportunities and by supporting family and other informal carers in work.
Colin Angel, Policy Director at the United Kingdom Homecare Association, said:
“The National Audit Office rightly calls time on the Department of Health and Social Care’s consistently ‘hands-off’ approach to the social care market and its workforce.
“The absence of a published strategy for the social care workforce highlighted by NAO should be an embarrassment to Government, but a strategy is only useful if it leads to decisive action.”
NAO highlights that only 18% of local authorities (which purchase the majority of homecare services) are paying fees to homecare providers that are above the benchmark costs of care produced by UKHCA, to which Government recommends authorities have regard.
UKHCA maintains that the ability to recruit, train and retain workers is severely affected by under-resourcing of care purchased by councils.
Colin Angel continued:
“Government has given increasing responsibilities to councils to shape their local care markets, while councils argue that they have insufficient funds to do so. UKHCA continues to urge Government to ensure that social care is properly funded and that there is independent oversight of councils’ commissioning practices and their effects on the social care workforce. Government must finally tackle the growing crisis in social care head-on.”
Responding to the National Audit Office report Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said:
“This worrying report reflects the historic underfunding of social care which is putting severe pressure on the care workforce, the provider market and the availability of care.
“Councils only employ a minority of these staff using their own pay rates. However, the increasing staff turnover rate and a vacancy rate more than double the national average amongst the wider provider group, shows the sector as a whole is struggling to recruit and retain staff who feel undervalued.
“The workforce is the lifeblood of social care and government needs to act on feedback from providers to implement a national strategy to ensure there are sufficient well-trained carers to make the care profession more attractive, with reward issues discussed on an industry-wide basis so that some sensible common approaches can be developed. This will help to address rising demand for care from a growing older population whose care needs are becoming more complex.
“Councils can’t plan for the future due to uncertainty over funding and an annual £2.3 billion shortfall that adult social care will face by 2020.
“Councils are doing all they can to protect services that care for older and disabled people, but without genuinely new funding to fully close this gap and long-term sector reform, there is a greater risk of more providers either pulling out of contracts or going out of business.”
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said:
“Social care is a fundamental public service on which millions of older people come to rely and it depends, above all, on there being sufficient numbers of well trained, skilled and motivated people to do the job – at home and in care homes. This report is a damning indictment of the failure of successive governments to carry out workforce planning and the end result is the dangerously fragile situation we see today – one that means that in some parts of the country there are not enough care staff to give older people the support they need, even if they are willing and able to pay top rates for it.
“Getting to a better position will take committed leadership from Ministers, coupled with significant and sustained additional funds. We hope and expect that this will be a central element of the consultation we have been promised by the summer into the reform of social care – really it has to be or we fear for the future of many older people in this country.”
Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England, added:
“The NAO’s report provides yet more evidence that the social care system is fit to burst and that the Government is not doing enough to support the social care workforce. Workforce is the most valuable asset to care providers and they need to be able to support, develop and pay them appropriately”.
The National Audit Office published its report on 8 February. It recommends that the Department of Health and Social care produces a robust national workforce strategy with the support of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Furthermore it suggests that the DHSC should invest more to enable commissioner to set appropriate fees for providers so that they can pay staff adequately and afford to offer career development and training opportunities.
Martin Green continued:
“No more reviews, no more consultations; let Government press ahead with all the necessary partners, to provide some much needed direction to a sector that is struggling”.