UK social care plan criticised for not addressing staffing crisis

A £1bn plan to improve the quality of England’s social care over the next decade, published on Wednesday, promised to boost staff skills and allow elderly and disabled people to remain independent for longer.

But it was criticised by providers, experts and some Conservative MPs for failing to tackle the sector’s devastating workforce crisis.

Much of the £5.4bn earmarked for social care from a manifesto-busting national insurance rise will go to funding a new £86,000 cap on care costs and a more generous means test.

Outlining how some of the remaining money will be spent, the document promised £500m investment in the 1.5m-strong adult social care workforce “so they have the opportunity to progress in their careers with training and qualifications while providing an even better standard of care”. 

A further £300m will be invested in improving housing and widening the range of supported-living options, while £150m will be spent on new technologies such as acoustic sensors that monitor movement.

But the lack of a detailed plan to recruit and retain more staff to a sector where around 10 per cent of posts are vacant drew broadsides from politicians, industry figures and experts.

Unveiling the paper in the House of Commons, Gillian Keegan, care minister, said the sector had been beset by issues ranging from high workforce turnover to variable quality of care. Casting the plan as part of the government’s drive to close the prosperity gap between regions, she added: “You cannot be serious about levelling up unless you are serious about social care, too.” 

However, Sally Warren, director of policy at the King’s Fund and formerly a senior civil servant working on social care, said the proposals failed to deal with “some of the most urgent and immediate problems currently facing the sector, including high levels of unmet need and a fragile provider market”.

Far from “fixing” social care as the prime minister had promised when he came to power two years ago, “the government’s plans mean social care services will continue to face significant challenges in supporting people who rely on them to live independent and fulfilling lives”, she added.

Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group, which represents care homes, noted the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services had this week reported that services were “rapidly deteriorating” with half of councils having to deal with a care home closure or bankruptcy in the last six months.

Yet the white paper contained “no promise of any extra funding, other than what has already been announced, to help recruit and retain the thousands of extra staff we need to tackle a growing crisis in the sector”, he said.

The white paper acknowledged the impact on the sector of the UK’s departure from the EU, saying it recognised that under the points-based immigration system many adult social care roles would not be eligible for a sponsored work visa. It added that following a Migration Advisory Committee review due to be published in the spring, the government would consider “whether further action is necessary to mitigate against any impact on recruitment into the sector”.

Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary who chairs the Commons health committee, told MPs it was “hard to see this white paper as more than three steps forward two steps back”.

While welcoming the decision to introduce a cap on care costs, he said the funding for local authorities “barely gives them enough to deal with demographic change and the national living wage increases . . . and it is very hard to see an end to the workforce crisis which sees 40 per cent turnover in many companies”.

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