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Britain’s social care a ‘ticking time bomb’

The Department of Health and Social Care is not doing enough to support a sustainable social care workforce, a report has claimed.

The National Audit Office’s (NAO) report on the adult social care workforce in England argues that workers feel undervalued and have limited opportunities for career progression.

In 2016-17 around half of care workers were paid the equivalent of £14,625 annually which, when combined with tough working conditions and a poor image, prevents workers from joining and remaining in the sector.

The NAO found that the turnover rate of care staff has been increasing since 2012-13, reaching 27.8% in 2016-17.

That same year the vacancy rate sat at 6.6% - well above the national average of 2.5%-2.7%.

However, the report claims that demand for care will continue to increase and people’s needs will continue to become more complex.

The Department of Health and Social Care estimates that the workforce needs to grow by 2.6% each year until 2035 if it is to meet these challenges.

But care providers are already under financial pressures, struggling to recruit and retain workers, and consequently incurring additional costs.

In 2016-17 councils spent 5.3% less on care than in 2010-11, and the NAO reports that spending is expected to reduce further over the next two years following further government funding cuts and increased financial pressures.

The report warns that if local authorities continue to pay below the recommended minimum price for care, providers will not continue to invest in areas where high proportions of people receive local authority funded care due to the financial difficulties this places on them.

It criticises the government’s lack of national strategy to address the workforce challenge and claims key commitments it has made have not been followed through.

‘Cinderella service’

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “Social care cannot continue as a Cinderella service – without a valued and rewarded workforce, adult social care cannot fulfil its crucial role of supporting elderly and vulnerable people in society.

“Pressures and demands on the health and social care systems are increasing, so the Department needs to respond quickly to this challenge by giving the sector the attention it deserves and needs, instead of falling short and not delivering value for money.”

Responding to the report, Sharon Wilde, national officer for the care workers’ union GMB, called Britain’s social care a “ticking time bomb.”

She said: “Britain's army of care workers are overworked, underpaid and denied the career progression they need.”

Wilde continued: “We need a clear, coherent strategy for funding social care now and in the future.

"Otherwise the struggle to recruit and retain carers will become even more acute, while the standard of care for our loved ones – and us in the future – will continue to deteriorate.”

Chief inspector of the Care Quality Commission, Andrea Sutcliffe, said that the commission shares the NAO’s concerns about recruitment and retention.

“The NAO report highlights some of the key issues that need to be addressed in the discussion about the future of adult social care as we look forward to the publication of the Government's Green Paper later this year.”

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said that the report paints a “damning picture of a cut-price service that lets down older people and those who work hard to care for them.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise there are challenges in the social care workforce - that’s why we’ve launched a consultation on the adult social care workforce and committed to publishing a health and care workforce strategy in the summer.

At the Spring Budget we provided an extra £2 billion funding to the sector and we have just announced a further £150 million for 2018-19.

“We will publish plans this summer to reform social care to ensure it is sustainable for the future.”

The government intends to publish a green paper on reforming care for older people by summer 2018.

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