News, Social Care

Care England issues S.O.S. for care sector

care sector

Care England has this week written to the newly appointed Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP, calling for the Conservative manifesto promise to ‘fix social care’ to be delivered in his premiership.

Care England’s open letter, signed by Chief Executive, Professor Martin Green OBE, outlines many of the immediate pressures facing the sector, including reform delays, energy costs and the escalating workforce crisis. It asks Rishi Sunak’s new government to fulfil the promise made in Boris Johnson’s 2019 election manifesto to “fix social care”. The sector has been increasingly plagued of late by record staffing shortages, low morale and uncertainty over providers’ ability to meet soaring energy costs.

Recent research has also shown that in-work poverty is widespread among the social care workforce, with one in 10 residential social care workers experiencing food insecurity and material poverty from 2017-2020 – a figure that is likely to be higher now.

“Save our sector”

Titled Saved our Sector, Care England’s letter argues that “any delay to the £1.36 billion funding provisioned for the Fair Cost of Care to address historic underfunding of social care and move fees closer to a Fair Cost of Care will have catastrophic effects.” The Health and Social Care Levy, which was set to provide the additional funding for social care through a 1.25 per cent increase in National Insurance contributions, was officially scrapped this month by Kwasi Kwarteng, the former Chancellor. The government has sought to assure parliament that scrapping the measure will not impact funding for health and social care but it is not yet clear how the shortfall will be addressed.

The letter coincides with reports that £500 million in emergency funding promised by the former Health Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, has yet to materialise. The fund was announced in September by the Department for Health and Social Care as an emergency “adult social care discharge fund… to free up beds and help improve ambulance response times”, however it has been reported that none of the funding has been received by the NHS or social care providers.

Describing the current state of social care funding, Care England say that: “The adult social care sector has been chronically underfunded by central government for far too long. Current funding provisions are insufficient and the government must commit to substantial increases in funding to stabilise the sector and enable it to move towards a sustainable footing.”

Care England also urge the government to release a fully-funded strategic workforce plan to remedy the much-publicised crisis in social care staffing. The vacancy rate for social care staff hit a record high 165,000 vacant posts this month (10.7 per cent of all posts), a situation that Care England describe as “a rapidly worsening crisis”. The number of vacancies across the sector rose by 55,000 in the last year, amounting to a 52 per cent increase.

On energy concerns, the open letter implores the government to immediately announce an extension to the six-month Energy Bill Relief Scheme, which is currently running until 31st March 2023. It states that while the scheme offers “much-needed short-term stability to care providers, [it] does not represent the long-term strategy needed to support the sector through the ongoing energy crisis.” Any move to withdraw the current measures would constitute “an immense oversight by the government,” Care England say, and “more substantial measures [should be] implemented as soon as possible.”

Addressing the new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, Martin Green says: “Care England welcomes the Prime Minister to his new role. Speaking for the first time outside of No.10, Mr. Sunak spoke of his intention to ‘deliver’ the Conservative manifesto promises from 2019. Now in office, he is presented with a unique opportunity to finish what his predecessors started and enact the long-overdue reform of the sector promised by his party during the 2019 election, and ‘fix social care’ once and for all.

“Following a turbulent couple of months at the head of government, it is vital that the new Prime Minister steadies the ship and places social care right at the top of his agenda. The stabilisation of the adult social care sector should be the government’s priority in the coming months to secure the future of the nation; for the individual receiving support and care, the staff member and the taxpayer.”

“The issues currently facing social care are immense in both scale and severity and must be addressed as a matter of urgency if the sector is to be saved. Issues around reform, energy, funding or workforce in isolation would be enough to push a provider over the edge: all four simultaneously is catastrophic.

“Care providers deliver essential care to many of society’s most vulnerable; Mr. Sunak has the opportunity and responsibility to ensure these individuals, and the high-quality care they receive, are protected in the long and short term. Care England is looking forward to building on our long history as a critical friend to government, and assisting in a pragmatic government response that is needed to save our sector.”