Local government leaders have welcomed a call from MPs for a £7bn annual increase in social care funding as a first step towards fixing the ongoing care crisis.
A new report from the Health and Social Care Committee has insisted that doing nothing about the struggling care system – a system whose preexisting problems have been exacerbated by COVID-19 – is ‘no longer an option’.
Social Care: Funding and Workforce calls for an immediate increase in funding for the social care sector of £7bn a year to avoid the risk of market collapse.
However, it warns that this is only a starting point and would not address the growing problem of unmet need or improve access to care.
The report estimates that the full cost of adequate funding is likely to run to ‘tens of billions of pounds.’
The report backs the introduction of a lifetime cap to protect against catastrophic care costs as originally proposed by the Dilnot Commission and endorses further consideration of free personal care.
The current means-tested system is also described as unfair, confusing, demeaning and ‘frightening for the most vulnerable people in our society, and their families’.
‘In this report we look at one element of that, namely the funding pressures, and conclude that the Government must use the spending review to raise the annual adult social care budget by £7bn by the end of the Parliament as the starting point for a wider series of reforms,’ said the committee chair, Jeremy Hunt MP.
Mr Hunt, who was the secretary of state for health and social care from 2012 to 2018, recognised that this funding increase was ‘significant’. However, he emphasised that it alone would not improve access or the quality of care.
The report called for action to improve the pay and recognition given to social care workers. It insisted there should be a clear career path that is more effectively aligned with the NHS.
It added that transitional arrangements must be put in place to ensure the recruitment of social care workers from overseas for as long as is necessary.
Mr Hunt said that the £7bn funding increase ‘would meet demographic and wage pressures as well as meet the catastrophic care costs faced by people with dementia or other neurological conditions.
‘To address wider issues the sector needs a 10-year plan and a people plan just like the NHS. Without such a plan, words about parity of esteem will be hollow. We owe it to both the staff and families devastated by loss to make this a moment of real change.’
Cllr Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Community Wellbeing Board, welcomed the report and called on the Government to provide councils with the funding they needed in the upcoming Spending Review.
‘This helpful report reinforces our calls for a long-term, sustainable funding solution for adult social care, as well as funding to deal with immediate pressures facing the system that existed before coronavirus and which have been exacerbated by it,’ he said.
‘Significant investment is urgently needed now just to meet existing needs and keep services going, as this report highlights, as well as consider how to make the system fairer including how we pay for it.’
Anita Charlesworth, the Health Foundation’s director of research and the REAL Centre, described the report as a ‘stark warning’ to the Government and outlined the social care issues that should be focused on.
‘In order to fix social care, three issues need to be addressed,’ she said.
‘Overall funding levels need to increase to stabilise the current system and ensure people who need care can access it. We need reform to provide certainty for how much individuals and families need to contribute to care costs. And the way the social care system is run needs to be transformed, putting people at the heart of care planning, so that there is more accountability for improvements in care and better pay and working conditions for staff.’
She added: ‘Social care has limped on for years with drip fed injections of funding to stave off crisis. Another one-year funding settlement will not provide the stability and fundamental reform the sector needs.’
Social Care Institute for Excellence chief executive, Kathryn Smith, agreed with the report’s call for more funding. However, she stressed that the social care system needed reform and not just money.
‘We need to see a shift of some investment – and much focus – away from remedial and acute services towards prevention,’ she said.
‘To assist with this shift in policy, we suggest introducing innovation funds so that the sector can scale up the most effective preventative models of care, housing and technology. And the workforce needs higher pay, better conditions, progression and development.
‘Social care needs parity of esteem with the NHS. A long-term funding settlement is one of several ways to achieve this. Action is now needed.’
The Department of Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.