Adult social care in England is in serious crisis, Tory council leaders have warned the government, as it faces a £3.7bn funding gap and a growing staffing shortage that has brought many local care providers to the brink of collapse.
The intervention by the County Councils Network, which represents 36 mainly Tory-run authorities, comes amid widespread local government concern over the increasing fragile state of social care. Care costs have accelerated recently, fuelled by unexpected wage and energy inflation.
“We face the perfect storm of staffing shortages, fewer care beds, and higher costs – all of which will impact on individuals waiting for care and discharges from hospital,” said Martin Tett, the Tory leader of Buckinghamshire council.
Although social care budgets have been under strain for years, the past few months alone have added an extra £1.4bn to the already hefty funding deficit faced by English councils, according to a new analysis carried out by the network, pushing many services to the edge of viability.
The warnings of crisis from members of her own party will pile pressure on prime minister Liz Truss, who insisted in the summer she wanted to support social care. There is speculation she will announce on Thursday measures to divert funds originally earmarked for the NHS into local government.
“My first priority on social care is making sure we’re getting the money into social care this winter, because we currently have too many people who are having to stay in hospital due to issues in the social care system,” she said.
But there is concern in local government about the extent to which any measures announced this week will address serious long-term funding problems in social care. The network estimates that without intervention, councils will run up a £3.7bn care funding shortfall over the next 18 months.
Truss’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, introduced a care cap to meet the manifesto promise that pensioners would not have to sell homes to fund steep care costs in their old age. Truss has vowed to keep the cap, while scrapping the national insurance rise intended to pay for it.
Some local authorities fear that if funding levels do not improve they will be unable to meet their legal obligation to provide care to local residents. Others report care providers handing back contracts because rising costs and staff shortages mean they are no longer able to provide services.
Councils are fighting a losing battle for staff with local labour market rivals like supermarkets Sainsbury’s and Lidl, who have been able to offer wage rises and staff perks such as free food. There are currently about 165,000 social care vacancies in England.
“We are certainly in crisis mode,” James McInnes, the cabinet member for adult social care at Tory-run Devon county council, told the Guardian. “It is very difficult because you can stack shelves in supermarkets and earn more money than you can in social care. We need to see national government to recognise this.”
The scale of contract hand-backs in Devon has reached the point where the council had set up a dedicated team to find alternative placements for care clients whose providers walk away. “We have never seen anything like it in the market place,” McInnes said.
Cathie Williams, the chief executive of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said: “Too many people are missing out on vital care and support – we estimate that over half a million people are waiting for assessments, care, or reviews. With over 165,000 staff vacancies, this is only set to get worse. ”
A government spokesperson said: “The health and social care secretary is focused on delivering for patients and has set out her four priorities of A, B, C, D – reducing ambulance delays, busting the Covid backlogs, improving care, and increasing the number of doctors and dentists.
“We are investing £5.4bn over the next three years to reform adult social care – to end the lottery of unpredictable care costs and support the workforce.
“This includes £3.6bn to enable all local authorities to move towards paying providers a fair cost of care, and a further £1.7bn to begin major improvements across adult social care in England – on top of record annual funding to help councils respond to rising demands and cost pressures.”