Social care sector stress at Spring Budget
Kari Gerstheimer explains the problems with Rishi Sunak MP’s Budget
When the Budget was announced, our expectations were not high. But even we at Access Social Care were surprised and saddened by how far this mini-Budget fell short of the help so desperately needed in the social care sector. With demand for social care at an all-time high, people with social care needs, carers and the social care workforce needed action, not platitudes and promises.
Older and disabled people, paid and unpaid carers, frequently live in poverty. Sunak’s Spring Budget came at a time of looming unprecedented hardship. The impending cost of living crisis, caused by prices increasing faster than income, affects the poorest the hardest. No amount of household budgeting will balance the books with expenses rising so fast. National helplines are preparing for a dramatic rise in calls from struggling families finding it impossible to make ends meet. Despite Sunak’s promise to support families through the coming crisis, and to cut taxes in the future, analysis by the Resolution Foundation found only one in eight workers will see their tax bills fall by the end of this Parliament. The decision not to target support at those hardest hit by rising prices leaves low-and-middle income households painfully exposed. Resolution Foundation predicts that 1.3m people, including half a million children, are set to fall below the poverty line this coming year – the first time the UK has seen such a rise outside a recession.
For people in need of social care, or people providing care, Sunak’s statement created little comfort and reassurance for the future. We already see families having to choose between social care, heating or food. Unlike health care, social care is not free at the point of use. Most disabled and older people have no choice other than to contribute towards the cost of their social care. With the increase in benefits lagging behind inflation, the situation is only going to get worse. Many struggling local authorities are already increasing charges, while other essential costs are rising. At Access Social Care, we have been working on cases where councils charging individuals for social care have not left them with the minimum income guarantee after social care costs have been applied – the legally mandated minimum level of income deemed possible to live on. The increase in benefits also falls far behind cost of living rises for unpaid carers, many of whom are already on their knees. This simply cannot go on.
Social care as a whole is drastically underfunded by central government. Despite the Prime Minister’s promise to fix social care, this government – and politicians of all stripes – have failed to address the decades-old problem of underfunding – and the social care workforce being undervalued and underpaid. Salaries have not kept up with pay in other sectors. Now, with the cost of living rising more dramatically than in generations, care workers are leaving social care to take higher paid jobs in retail, hospitality, and the NHS. Who can blame them? There is only so much people can bear and only so far dedication to service can go before bills need to be paid and something has to give.
The social care workforce crisis is so bad there are parts of the country where it is impossible to recruit and retain paid support staff. Instead, an army of unpaid carers – often family members and friends – are having to step in, often having no choice but to give up paid work themselves to care for their loved ones. Families are telling us they are close to collapse because they are providing over 50 hours of care each week. These aren’t just isolated incidences. We have been leading a project combining data from five national helplines. Shockingly, we have seen a near 400 per cent increase in carers calling helplines in the last two years – and this is only going to get worse.
Where families are unable to step in, people are getting stuck in hospitals unable to be safely discharged to the community – or worse, going without care at all. Our cases are so upsetting, we pay for counselling support for our lawyers. The social care sector needs more targeted support. The government claims to have been generous – and it is true they have allocated more money to social care – but the sums don’t add up. The funding announced leaves hundreds of thousands with unmet care needs – and without more money to pay care staff a living wage, the workforce crisis will only deepen. The Chancellor’s failure to address these pressures in his Spring Statement will lead to an increase in safeguarding issues and hospital admissions. We can only hope he heeds our call to act now – before it is too late for many.
Kari Gerstheimer is CEO of Access Social Care, a charity providing free legal advice and information to people with social care needs: accesscharity.org.uk