With a general election looming on the horizon, social care looks set to become a battleground for party policy as the measures taken by the current government continue to fail to address what is now being referred to as a ‘home care crisis’.
According to research carried out by Opus Restructuring and Companies Watch for Panorama 95 UK councils have seen care contracts cancelled by care firms, who say they simply cannot continue to provide the level of service required for the funding they receive.
Ken Hogg of Cymorth Llaw, a care home company that was recently forced to cancel its contract with Conwy council, said that the cost both of carers’ wages and their expenses, pension, and National Insurance contributions was not covered by the average of £15 per hour currently offered by most councils, stating, “We didn’t think we could do it for the money – it was as simple as that.”
Indeed, many care companies are folding under the pressure, with just under 70 closing in the past few months and one in four at risk of insolvency in the coming year.
The Local Government Association says that the current issues are a result of both an ageing population and the government’s ‘historic underfunding’ of social care. The crisis is even starting to have a knock-back effect on the NHS, with an estimated 6,500 adult patients currently well enough to leave hospital but still taking up beds due to having no care package to go home to.
One of the biggest issues currently experienced by care companies is that the lack of funding is leading to a huge staff shortage, with recruitment and retention fast becoming a problem. After costs, most carers still don’t receive much more than minimum wage and this, coupled with the difficulty of the work and long, often unsociable hours is leaving care companies unable to attract new staff.
With so many skilled and available locum social care workers on offer, temporary or long-term locum contracts could go some way towards bridging the gap for the moment, but with the government seemingly unwilling to allocate more money than it already has towards social care, it’s unclear how even these contracts would be paid for.
We eagerly await seeing how other parties will address the burgeoning crisis, if at all, in their upcoming election manifestos.