Underfunding and rising needs make for a perfect storm in the social care sector

We have been waiting for years for the Government to devote due attention to the brewing crisis in adult social care.

Instead, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found in its annual report last week that cuts to social care services have proceeded at such alarming levels that knock-on effects are being felt in A&E units, as a shortage of care beds force older people into A&E admissions.

The report is damning on the delivery of social care and support services, revealing that the elderly are confronted with failing services at the point of access, and that they are not given enough support to keep them healthy at home. Nonetheless, the report also positively highlighted the quality of care and the improvements that are taking place across the stretched care sector, despite increasingly difficult circumstances.

The publication of the annual report follows the regulator’s warning earlier last week that the “pace” of care home closures - due to funding shortfalls - from local authorities is a concern, with the number of homes having fallen by nearly 1,500 to 16,600 – while our society ages further and the number of people needing access to adult social care keeps rising.

The fundamental issue at the heart of these challenges is that budgets for the care sector – including both care homes and home care providers – are insufficient to address the real and urgent needs of the older people in our society. These are our parents and grandparents; the generations that preceded ours and raised us.

When older people can no longer care for themselves, it is vital that we provide them with the support they deserve – whether in the comfort of their own homes, or in a care home setting with the highest standards. The elderly too often become invisible as they age, and while local authorities are charged with their care and support, they can only stretch as far as the funding available from central government.

In addition, funding has not been adjusted for changes that have affected the sector recently, such as the National Living Wage (NLW). While the National Living Wage is a welcome and a much-needed boost for the thousands of care workers who are often the sole source of companionship and support for older and disabled people, and will hopefully attract and inspire more to join the sector, it has also increased the costs of care. The introduction of the National Living Wage was always going to have an impact on providers if the Government failed to increase social care funding – which to date, it has.

The CQC’s reports last week should serve as a stark wake-up call for Westminster and Whitehall that the current shortcomings in the social care sector are not sustainable in the long term. It is vulnerable people who will bear the brunt of ministers’ quibbling if this issue is not resolved – from older people having to move out of their own homes, to beds being blocked in A&E units across the country.

The efforts of care providers and their staff to maintain the highest standards in a difficult funding environment are inspiring and deserve our praise. But in the long term, high-quality care is not something that can be delivered ‘on the cheap’ – and it is heart-breaking to see that so many vulnerable older people can’t find the support they need either at home or in care settings.

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