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The Budget failed to address serious crisis in social care ahead of growing pressures this winter

The Budget failed to address serious crisis in social care ahead of growing pressures this winter
3 min read

After interrogating the detail in the Treasury documents, it would be true to say that we were rather disappointed about what the Chancellor’s Budget means for social care.

Services need a big injection of extra money now to relieve current pressures, but it's not what the Chancellor offered.   

Ever since the Prime Minister announced his proposed social care reforms at the beginning of September it has been clear that the quantum of extra funding the Chancellor is prepared to invest would be crucial.

We now know the answer. The Chancellor confirmed that there is substantial additional money from the Health and Care Levy to fund the government’s proposed “cap” on catastrophic care costs and some of the knock-on consequences, but we don’t know if it’s enough and importantly it doesn’t come on stream until 2023.  

Rishi Sunak did announce new grant funding for local government over the next three years of £4.8bn, the largest increase in core funding for over a decade. While extremely welcome after years of austerity, the fear is that this extra money will be absorbed by rising costs. It is also not ring-fenced for social care, so up to local authorities to decide how to divide it among their cash-strapped services.

The risk is that as the months go by, there will be care homes mothballing beds because they cannot staff them

It is implausible that it will all go to social care, and the likelihood is that we will see different outcomes in different places. In other words, this is not the guaranteed extra funding that every area needs if older and disabled people living there, plus all their unpaid carers, are to receive the support they require.    

None of this would matter so much were it not for the fact that social care is in such serious trouble. It has suffered from serious workforce problems for many years but these have been greatly worsened by the pandemic and today care providers face a perfect storm.

Care staff who have worked through Covid-19 are exhausted and competition from other sectors, particularly retail and hospitality, is intense. The policy of mandatory vaccination, while rational, has persuaded some workers to quit and the government’s migration stance is reducing a traditional source of supply.

The boss of a big care company told me recently that every month his staff churn rate is increasing by one per cent, which is unsustainable if it goes on. The overall lack of money in social care lies behind the low pay and poor conditions, which do not encourage care workers to stay.        

The risk is that as the months go by, there will be more examples of care homes mothballing beds because they cannot staff them, and home care agencies turning away custom for lack of workers to send.

We are already seeing both phenomena, as the care regulator attests. Worryingly, there are also more reports of delayed discharges from hospitals because of insufficient care in the community to enable older patients to go home. All this with Covid still present and winter on the way. It’s a huge concern and unfortunately there was nothing in the Chancellor’s Budget to give us confidence that these problems can be managed in a way that does not ultimately do damage to older people’s health and ability to live independently.

It’s how we get from where we are now to autumn 2023, when the additional funding is due to come on stream that is preoccupying many in social care. I think it’s highly likely that the government will have to revisit this question before very long.    

 

Caroline Abrahams is the Charity Director at Age UK.

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