William Eichler 08 February 2018

Auditors expose Whitehall’s ‘lamentable’ approach to social care

Auditors expose Whitehall’s ‘lamentable’ approach to social care image

Auditors have published a ‘damning’ report into the country’s ailing care services, arguing the Government is not doing enough to support a sustainable social care workforce.

A report published today by the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned the number of people working in care is not meeting the country’s growing care demands.

One of the problems highlighted by the auditors is the high turnover of staff, which is the result of low wages, tough working conditions and the sector’s poor image.

The turnover rate of care staff has been increasing since 2012-13 and in 2016-17 reached 27.8%. The vacancy rate in 2016-17 for jobs across social care was 6.6%, which was well above the national average of 2.5%-2.7%.

This was partly the result of low pay, the auditors argue. In 2016-17, around half of care workers were paid £7.50 per hour or below (the National Living Wage was £7.20 in 2016-17). This is equivalent to £14,625 annually.

The problem of staff retention is also made worse by the country’s ageing population which increases the pressure on services. In order to cope with this trend, the Department of Health and Social Care estimates the workforce will need to grow by 2.6% every year until 2035.

The NAO’s report found councils spent 5.3% less on care in 2016-17 compared with 2010-11. Spending is expected to reduce further over the next two years due to continued Government funding cuts and increased financial pressures.

The report argues uncertainty over funding is limiting local authorities’ ability to plan future spending on care — which will inevitably impact upon struggling private care providers, around 65% of whose income comes from local authority-arranged care.

The NAO concluded the Department of Health and Social Care had no national strategy to address the workforce challenge and had not followed through on commitments to improve carers’ career prospects.

The Government should also invest more to make the sector sustainable, the report said.

‘Social care cannot continue as a Cinderella service – without a valued and rewarded workforce, adult social care cannot fulfil its crucial role of supporting elderly and vulnerable people in society,’ said NAO head Amyas Morse.

‘Pressures and demands on the health and social care systems are increasing, so the Department needs to respond quickly to this challenge by giving the sector the attention it deserves and needs, instead of falling short and not delivering value for money.’

Responding to the report, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Community Wellbeing Board, said: ‘This worrying report reflects the historic underfunding of social care which is putting severe pressure on the care workforce, the provider market and the availability of care.

‘Councils only employ a minority of these staff using their own pay rates. However, the increasing staff turnover rate and a vacancy rate more than double the national average amongst the wider provider group, shows the sector as a whole is struggling to recruit and retain staff who feel undervalued.’

‘The workforce is the lifeblood of social care and Government needs to act on feedback from providers to implement a national strategy to ensure there are sufficient well-trained carers to make the care profession more attractive, with reward issues discussed on an industry-wide basis so that some sensible common approaches can be developed,’ Cllr Seccombe continued.

‘This will help to address rising demand for care from a growing older population whose care needs are becoming more complex.

‘Councils can’t plan for the future due to uncertainty over funding and an annual £2.3bn shortfall that adult social care will face by 2020.’

In her response to the report, UNISON’s assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said it exposed the Government’s ‘lamentable approach to social care’.

‘This damning report exposes the Government’s lamentable approach to social care, which is letting down elderly and disabled people, as well as the dedicated staff looking after them,’ she said.

‘Years of underfunding mean local councils can no longer put enough money into care to meet the needs of an ageing population.

‘Elderly and disabled residents, care staff and the NHS are all losing out as a result. Without urgent ministerial action, the sector will continue its slow motion collapse.’

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