Hft: Let 2020 be the year that political inaction ends and social care finally gets the attention it deserves
Hft, a national charity that supports adults with learning disabilities, outlines the findings from their Sector Pulse Check - an annual snapshot of the financial health of the social care sector.
2019 was a tumultuous year for politics. Ongoing delays to Brexit, the departure of Theresa May as Prime Minister, the beginning of Boris Johnson’s time in Downing Street and the first Winter General Election since 1923 have all conspired to keep social care reforms off of the political agenda.
It is against this backdrop that Hft, a national charity that supports adults with learning disabilities, has published its third annual Sector Pulse Check report. The research, published in partnership with independent economics consultancy Cebr, provides an annual snapshot of the financial health of the social care sector, gauges how providers have responded to the events of the past twelve months, and sees what providers believe is in store for the next twelve months.
For the third year in a row, rising wage bills, caused in part by unfunded increases in the National Living Wage, were seen as the biggest financial pressure facing social care providers, with 95% of respondents listing it as their main financial pressure. With increasing amounts of funding being allocated to staff costs, providers are left with less money than before to invest in the future of services.
In order to remain financially viable, providers are taking increasingly desperate actions. The number of providers who have said they are offering care to fewer people has more than doubled in the past year, as a direct result of funding pressures, with 1 in 5 providers saying they have taken this action over the past year. A third (33%) of providers have reported shedding staff, and 45% have either closed down parts of their organisation, or handed contracts back to local authorities. Looking ahead, 52% of providers warn further service closures are on the cards if a funding solution is not found.
These decisions are culturally at odds with the way anyone would wish to run their organisation. It should be seen as a sign that providers are having to make increasingly difficult decisions to remain financially viable.
Most worryingly of all, these decisions are having a detrimental impact on the quality of care that we as a sector are able to provide. In last year’s survey, 11% of providers warned that further cuts could impact the quality of care they are able to provide. When asked this year, 43% of providers noted a reduction in the quality of care their organisation provided in the past 12 months, with worsening CQC ratings and a decrease in staff morale being among the most severe indications of a decline in quality.
It is widely acknowledged that there is a recruitment crisis in social care. At the same time, demand for adult social care services is growing across the board, particularly when supporting those who are the most vulnerable. These pressures are being acutely felt in services that support individuals with complex needs or behaviours that challenge Indeed, when questioned 76% of providers say recruitment to such services is “significantly more difficult” than in services for people with mild to moderate support needs, and 82% also warn that they struggle to retain staff once they are hired. For as long as social care continues to be commissioned as a low-paid profession, providers will continue to struggle to recruit staff in these services.
Debates around the use of assistive technology in social care have become more prevalent amongst many providers and local authorities over the past year. Our survey revealed the various ways in which providers are currently using technologies to enhance support – be it digital record keeping through to environmental controls and food preparation. There was also general consensus that assistive technology is a benefit to people receiving social care support. However, 81% of providers readily admit that they are not using technology to its full potential. When asked why, three-quarters (75%) of providers said they lacked the funding to pay for such technologies, and 71% noted that their local authority was either unable or unwilling to fund them. In our experience, assistive technologies have untold potential to promote independence for people we support. It also has the power to enhance human interaction, as staff are freed up to offer more meaningful support. We as a sector should be empowered to embrace these new technologies, but are being hindered by the current funding models.
With many providers being forced to do more with less, it is perhaps unsurprising to see this is taking its toll on the mental health of people employed in the sector. On average, poor mental health accounts for 17% of all staff absenteeism – although some providers reported it to be as high as 60%. While it is reassuring to see that 66% of providers provide in-house mental health awareness training and 38% have staff trained as mental health first-aiders; our research shows that the mental and physical wellbeing of staff should be at the forefront of any proposed social care reforms put forward by government.
These figures show a sector that is running out of options. A sector that is stagnating instead of innovating. A sector that is offering care to fewer people, while demand for its services is growing. As one respondent to our survey stated: “This year has been the worst for us in ages. Delay to Brexit (which may or may not be a bad thing, but it’s taking up all our energy!), new PM leadership and now an election! No time to focus on social care!”- Let 2020 be the year that the political inaction ends, and that social care finally gets the attention that it deserves.
You can download your copy of Hft’s Sector Pulse Check report HERE.