Social care crisis can’t be ignored any longer – Ian Hudspeth

Social care is at crisis point, senior politicians continue to warn.Social care is at crisis point, senior politicians continue to warn.
Social care is at crisis point, senior politicians continue to warn.
SOCIAL care has long played an invaluable role in our national life, but this unprecedented year has rightly created a whole new appreciation and understanding of what it represents, including for those who work in it.

Despite being created at the same time as the NHS and employing more people with a 1.5 million-strong workforce, social care has for decades not had the same level of recognition or esteem as its health counterpart.

A long-term sustainable plan for its future has continually been talked about, but then – almost inevitably – delayed by successive governments of different political persuasions.

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The Local Government Association, which represents councils across the country, has warned that significant extra funding is needed to shore up social care ahead of winter and get through the second wave of coronavirus, on top of dealing with existing challenges and as a move towards future reform.

Boris Johnson is accused of neglecting the social care crisis.Boris Johnson is accused of neglecting the social care crisis.
Boris Johnson is accused of neglecting the social care crisis.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought into stark relief the pre-existing funding and demand pressures facing our care homes, domiciliary services, community care and other forms of this vital support for people of all ages and with a range of conditions, to help them live their daily lives in the way they want to.

These issues have been the focus of three separate, significant reports on social care.

The cross-party Health and Social Care Committee said an extra £7bn was needed as a “starting point” just to avoid a collapse in the care market and meet rising demographic and wage pressures, including “catastrophic” care costs faced by people with dementia or other neurological conditions.

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The MPs said this would still not be enough to address the growing problem of unmet need or improve access to care for all those who need it, with the full cost of adequate funding likely to run into tens of billions of pounds, reflecting the gravity of the crisis facing social care.

Improved pay, training and conditions for the workforce, who have been on the frontline throughout the current crisis, was also called for by the committee, 
with a people plan to match that of the NHS.

Related to this, the Care Quality Commission’s annual assessment on the state of health and care in England said the lack of a long-term funding solution has left social care in a fragile state, and in need of investment and workforce planning.

Meanwhile, an estimated 112,000 vacancies are available in social care on any given day, while facing a turnover rate of nearly a third every year, according to charity Skills for Care’s own annual care workforce survey.

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The population aged 65 and above is projected to grow by 32 per cent by 2035, which if the workforce grows at the same rate, then an additional 520,000 jobs will be needed in social care just to meet this demand.

A quarter of the existing workers, some 385,000 people, are aged 55 and over and so are expected to retire within the next 10 years, while the average age of those who work in care is 44 years old.

The Government’s upcoming Spending Review is an opportunity to meet some of these immediate pressures, including supporting all those who use and work in social care through this second wave of the pandemic.

It is hugely disappointing that this year’s review will only cover the next 12 months and not provide councils with longer-term financial certainty, unlike with schools and the NHS.

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Previous announcements including on the extension to the Infection Control Fund will certainly help, but 
the underlying fundamental issues remain.

We in the LGA have been calling for a cross-party consensus on the future of adult social care and how we pay for it, since long before the current crisis.

On his first day in office, the Prime Minister said on the steps of Downing Street that a solution to social care would be found in the first 100 days, but the Government has since said it
 is now unlikely to bring forward a 
plan for reform until next year at the earliest.

It is clear that we cannot expect people with lived experience of social care and their loved ones, along with those who work with and support them, to go through the experience of a second wave of this deadly virus, only to be met with the same uncertainties which existed pre-pandemic.

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Councillor Ian Hudspeth is Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board.

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