Social care funding is grossly inadequate and pay must be better - Stephen Chandler

WE’RE hearing reports from all around the country of care staff quitting for higher pay, and far less responsibility, in other sectors like retail and hospitality. And we’re hearing of more and more unpaid family carers buckling under the strain of supporting loved ones throughout the Covid emergency.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Now we are starting to pick up evidence of domiciliary care agencies going out of business, and of others handing back contracts they cannot fulfil simply because they cannot recruit. Where overstretched teams are just managing to keep the show on the road, people are left waiting to be helped to wash and dress, to eat and drink and to take vital medication.

We have called on the Chancellor to come up with £1.5bn of emergency funding to stabilise the system this winter and another £1.5bn to provide relief for the most hard-pressed family carers. So far, our calls seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Which is a tragedy, because that £3bn would be less than one per cent of what the government has spent in response to the Covid pandemic and yet it would see us safely through the months ahead.

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It’s a tragedy, too, because there is so much to be proud of in adult social care. The contribution of care workers and unpaid carers throughout the pandemic has been nothing short of magnificent. Like all of us, the people we support may not have been able to lead their usual routines, but the great majority have stayed safe and well thanks to care workers and carers who have gone that extra mile time and time again.

We have called on the government to recognise their remarkable contribution with a £1,000 bonus for care workers and that £1.5bn package for carers, enabling the most exhausted to have some respite. So far, we have not had a response to our call though government knows my number.

We all must keep pressing for the care reforms to include measures to support carers and to put paid care work at last on a professional footing, with decent pay and proper training and career structure.

None of us should let up on this for one minute as long as it continues to be said that you can’t blame people for turning their back on care work when they can earn more stacking supermarket shelves or flipping burgers.

The pandemic, for all its horrors, has also given us important glimpses of how adult social care may develop in future – how technology will have a vital and growing part to play in providing care, support, and assurance of people’s wellbeing; how communities can wrap themselves around friends and neighbours who may be isolated or at risk; and how the voluntary sector is inescapably going to be a key partner.

Above all, the pandemic has shone a light on adult social care that has at last raised public awareness of it and has made it impossible for politicians to continue to evade responsibility for its long-overdue reform.

No-one among the many many viewers who recently watched the two Ed Balls documentaries on care of older people could fail to have been moved by the tenderness and dedication of the care workers and carers portrayed or angered at the deal that society gives them. We must harness those emotions.

We must extend the public’s now greater understanding of care for older people to the support we provide for younger adults, which has not so far received the same media attention, and indeed the wider work that adult social services do in respect of social exclusion.

We must make sure, too, that the full contribution of adult social services is understood and given space and voice in the new integrated care systems taking effect across England next April.

While we’re getting through the winter, we also have to close the deal on the right reforms to make adult social care fit for the modern era and a proper pillar of our welfare state, almost 75 years after it was given just a walk-on part in the National Assistance Act.

We are assured that the reforms will represent “a once in a generation transformation”. I know for many including myself the jury is still out on whether the parts of the draft plans we have seen will deliver that.

Just two per cent – of the funding to be raised by the new health and social care levy on national insurance next year will in fact come to social care. Over the course of the next three years, we are told that £5.4bn of a total £36bn will come to social care, but £3.7bn of that is allocated to charging reform and the fair cost of care and £500m has been committed to workforce training, which leaves only £400m a year to deliver those once in a generation transformational reform.

Quite obviously, that is grossly inadequate. We cannot make do and mend any longer. Adult social care deserves more – it deserves better. So, continue to work with us to loudly champion not just for reform but also the necessary funding to deliver them.

Stephen Chandler is president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services. This is an edited version of his keynote policy speech this week.

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