Fundamental change - including better pay and conditions for the 1m working in care homes - is needed to prevent them being in permanent crisis.
A new report by the York-based Joseph Rowntree Foundation says “humanity” must be injected back into care homes, with personal relationships put at the heart of how they are run and regulated.
Director of care John Kennedy carried out his own research using social media, blogs, Twitter and Facebook, to get as broad a range of views as possible.
Three-quarters of care workers earn around £6.45 per hour, just 14 pence higher than the 2013 National Minimum Wage - proof Kennedy says of the “incredibly low value we put on the work done by the more than one million people who work in social care.”
One response on Twitter said: “We pay dog walkers and baby sitters more than we pay careworkers.”
Mr Kennedy, who has worked in care for 30 years, including as a care assistant, handyman and cook, wrote: “It seems utter common sense to me but how can we expect our care workers to value and respect us if we show such little regard for them? Average wage rates suggest that supermarket assistants are paid more than care assistants – evidence of how much we value this skilled role.”
Mr Kennedy, who said it felt as if the past three decades had been spent stumbling from one crisis to another “from one Panorama report to the next”, recommends cutting paperwork so workers have more time to spend caring for residents and developing relationships.
The inquiry identified more than 100 separate items of paperwork that have to be completed regularly in care homes.
Some care managers reported spending a day on week on paperwork, with some feeling they were valued - and often promoted - for producing paperwork “rather than their ability to deliver quality care.”
A recent Care Quality Commission report found one in five nursing homes it inspected which looks after people with dementia and Parkinson’s Disease had staff shortages.
Mr Kennedy laid the blame for poor pay and minimum staffing levels on poor funding for a “Cinderella” sector which accounts for 1.8 per cent of national expenditure (£12bn), in contrast to the NHS, which accounts for £102bn.
The report: “The care sectors needs to be properly joined up with the NHS, not act as a poor relation, but requires the resource to do so. In an ageing society, care homes should be an essential partner of the NHS.”
He also recommends regulation extending its remit beyond inspection to include pay and working conditions, staffing levels, commissioning practices and transparency of tariffs, to improve care.
Creating a professional body to represent care managers would provide a voice at a national policy level.
Mr Kennedy said: “Real change is needed to end the neglect of our care home sector.
“Currently the system is set up to fail, with the minimum resource, effort and value placed on care homes.
“The Government, regulators and care home providers need to come together to improve funding and pay, cut bureaucracy and inject humanity back into the system we rely upon to look after our loved ones and ourselves.”