In Depth

Social care system 'beginning to collapse'

UK Homecare Association report suggests 9,000 carers per day are leaving their jobs

Britain's system of social care is "beginning to collapse", according to the chairman of the UK Homecare Association, reports the BBC.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Mike Pagdham said staff shortages and an ageing population would result in deteriorating levels of care.

He added: "I agree wholeheartedly with Age UK's warning that the social care system will begin to collapse this year, but I would go further and say that the system has already begun to collapse."

According to data gathered by the Skills for Care charity and analysed by the BBC, 338,520 adult social care workers left their roles in 2015-16 – more than 900 per day. One in every 20 care roles is vacant.

A joint report by the Local Government Information Unit and Mears, one of the country's biggest private providers, concluded last month that the UK's home care industry was "on the brink of collapse", with providers either going bankrupt or pulling out of contracts.

An investigation by the BBC's Panorama also found care companies had cancelled contracts with 95 councils and that 69 home care companies had closed in just three months.

Home nursing care for the disabled and elderly was one of the first parts of the healthcare service to be handed to the private sector in the 1970s.

According to research by the Opus consultancy, the industry is now "dominated by smaller companies with an average net worth of just £314,000", making them less able to absorb rising costs, including the national living wage.

While the UK elderly population is set to rise, the proportion of people receiving state-funded social care has dropped as local authorities have raised the eligibility threshold.

Combined with "cuts to local authority budgets and the fees they pay, rises in the minimum wage, a shortage of trained nurses and tougher immigration rules", this has hit the industry hard, says the Financial Times.

The government has pledged to spend an extra £2bn on the social care system and allowed local authorities to raise council tax bills in order to fund gaps in their budgets.

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found one in ten councils had cut their spending on social care by more than a quarter amid a broader budget squeeze. Overall local authority spending on social care dropped 11 per cent in real terms between 2009/10 and 2015/16.

Research funded by the Health Foundation and cited in The Independent also found "major variations in what individual councils spend on social care".

Chancellor Philip Hammond has also pledged to report back later this year on plans to make the sector more sustainable.

Care firms cancel contracts with 95 councils over 'lack of money'

20 March

Care firms have cancelled contracts with as many as 95 councils across the UK and are closing residential care homes due to a "lack of money", a BBC investigation says.

Research carried out on behalf of the BBC's Panorama programme, based on responses to a Freedom of Information request from 197 out of 212 councils, found "69 home care companies have closed in the last three months", says the broadcaster.

Together with research reported in The Times last year, that brings the total number of closures in the past 12 months to 320.

A lack of space in care homes, or delays in arranging in-home care packages, is said to have led to 6,500 acute-need hospital beds in England being taken up by people well enough to leave hospital. Such "bed blocking" is widely cited as being a major contributor to the crisis in hospital A&E departments that caused record waiting times this winter.

In addition, the BBC also found "one in four of the UK's 2,500 home care companies is at risk of insolvency".

Care home Cymorth Llaw, in North Wales, told Panorama it stopped working with Conwy Council after being offered £14.20 per hour, which it said was not enough to cover costs. A subsequent offer of £15 per hour was also deemed insufficient. 

There was a similar issue with fellow home care company Mears, which cancelled a contract with Liverpool City Council that would have been worth £13.10 per hour. It says it needs a minimum of £15 per hour to make ends meet.

A 2015 report from the BBC said the average council payment for care home services was £13.66, but would need to rise to £16.70 when the full national living wage of £9 per hour is in place by 2020.

The government declined an interview with the BBC, but said it has invested £9.25bn in social care in England. Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged another £2bn over three years in his Budget this month.

However, experts say the current shortfall in funding is £2.6bn just in the next year alone. 

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