Social care on brink of collapse as it faces £7bn-a-year shortfall

The English social care system urgently needs £7 billion a year to prevent a collapse as the pandemic pushes the sector further into a funding crisis, MPs have warned.

[Look at penultimate paragraph – Owl]

Katie Gibbons

The emergency boost would be a “starting point” to avoid a disaster and is not enough fully to address unmet need, according to a report by the Commons health and social care committee.

If £7 billion were provided for social care it would help to avert a market collapse caused by providers prioritising people who can pay, it said.

The sector will face further pressure from new legislation, reported last night, that will ban care homes from employing staff across multiple sites to limit the spread of Covid-19.

The MPs said in their report to ministers that the social care system perpetuated a profound unfairness because some conditions were ineligible for basic social care. Budget cuts have meant that local authorities restrict funding to those in the most severe need, leaving others to pay for themselves, rely on family or go without.

The committee has called for the social care reform package to be brought forward before the end of the financial year and for the government to publish a ten-year plan for the sector. It also supports a cap of £46,000 on how much a person pays for care during their life. It estimates that this would cost about £3.1 billion by 2023-24.

The charity Age UK understands that 1.4 million older people are not getting the care and support they need, up by 19 per cent in two years. The report said that the means-tested system should be scrapped as it was unfair, confusing, demeaning and frightening for people in need of care and their families.

Anyone with assets of more than £14,250 has to pay for their own social care. The wife of one patient, who had dementia diagnosed in his sixties and found himself without financial support, told MPs: “It is like picking up a random card from a pack and saying, ‘Oh, you’ve got this particular one. Tough. That’s the disease the NHS isn’t going to pay for.’”

Jeremy Hunt, the committee chairman, said: “The government must use the spending review to raise the annual adult social care budget [to] meet the catastrophic care costs faced by people with dementia or other neurological conditions. To address wider issues the sector needs a ten-year plan and a people plan just like the NHS.”

Nick Ville, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, said: “The government must urgently provide the funding the sector needs, to avoid leaving hundreds of thousands of people without care and keep those who look after them in work.”

The plans to restrict where care staff work would mean that they had to sign exclusive contracts for one home, The Daily Telegraph said. Helen Whateley, the care minister, said last week that there was evidence the virus had been spread in April by staff working at several sites. The practice is discouraged.

There have been concerns, however, that such restrictions could exacerbate a staffing crisis. A quarter of staff are on zero-hour contracts and low wages mean many take on multiple jobs.

Leaked documents also show that care homes have been asked to volunteer beds for discharged Covid-19 patients, despite no independent assurance of safety. Councils sent a questionnaire to care homes last week, according to papers seen by Amnesty International.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Our priority is to prevent infections in care homes and we are working with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the NHS to ensure everyone discharged to a care home has an up-to-date Covid-19 test result and anyone positive is discharged to a care home CQC has assured is able to provide safe care.”