Adult social care needs “several billions” of additional funding and long-term plan to tackle mounting pressures, including workforce retention, MPs have warned.
In a report, the cross party Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee said the coronavirus pandemic has “exacerbated” the underlying structural challenges of rising demand, unmet need and difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff.
“The message rang clear throughout our inquiry: the adult social care sector does not have enough funding either in the here and now, or in the longer-term,” the report warned.
“Those who need care, their loved ones, and care workers deserve better”
It focused on the government’s 10-year vision for adult social care laid out in its People at the Heart of Care white paper, published last year, containing a series of measures aiming at professionalising and supporting the social care workforce.
These included calls for Continuous Professional Development budgets for registered nurses, nursing associates, occupational therapists, and other allied health professionals.
The paper also outlined social worker training routes, initiatives to promote wellbeing and mental health support, and new policies to identify and support best recruitment practices locally.
While the committee commended the measures in principle, it said the government “currently has nothing more than a vision, with no roadmap, no timetable, no milestones, and no measures of success” to implement them.
The report has, therefore, called on the government to publish both a 10-year-plan for how its vision laid out in the white paper will be achieved and a workforce roadmap with milestones and measures of success.
Clive Betts, chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, argued that the government should be “under no illusions that it has come close to rescuing social care”.
He added: “Ultimately, whether it relates to immediate cost pressures or on wider structural issues in the sector, the fundamental problem is that there continues to be a large funding gap in adult social care which needs filling.
“Those who need care, their loved ones, and care workers deserve better,” said Mr Betts.
“A simple way to recruit and retain staff is to pay them fairly”
As part of plans to reform adult social care, the government introduced the Health and Social Care Levy in September 2021, a 1.25% tax on earnings for employees and employers, which is projected to raise £36bn over three years.
Of this, £5.4bn will be put towards funding reforms, with £1.7bn of that being put towards the sector reforms outlined in the white paper.
However, the committee warned in its report that the government needed to raise more money than this in order to effectively deliver these reforms.
It said: “Wherever the money comes from – from allocating a higher proportion of levy proceeds to social care, or from central government grants – the government urgently needs to allocate more funding to adult social care in the order of several billions each year, at least £7bn.”
The report also warned that there was nothing in the white paper on pay, stressing that it is “critical” that the adult social care workforce is rewarded with wages that are representative of the highly skilled nature of their work.
These concerns have been echoed by nurse leaders, who have warned that the workforce crises across the health and care sectors must be addressed in parallel to implementing the reforms.
Royal College of Nursing director for England, Patricia Marquis, said: “Fixing social care is key to tackling the NHS backlog. Without investment, hospital patients cannot be discharged into the community, beds are full, and A&Es are backed up with ambulances waiting outside.
“Social care must become a more attractive place to work, with salaries that at the very least match the NHS. We welcome MPs’ support for our members calling for parity.”
She added that ministers must come up with ways to boost the domestic recruitment of nursing staff, to reduce the disproportionate reliance on valued colleagues form overseas.
“A simple way to recruit and retain staff is to pay them fairly,” she said, responding to the report.
The shortage of workers and lack of proper pay is the biggest worry for providers of care, said Natasha Curry, deputy director of the Nuffield Trust.
She said: “There is a desperate need for a realistic workforce strategy that goes beyond a wish list and puts pay for all social care staff on a competitive footing, which adequately rewards qualifications, responsibilities and experience.”
Other health leaders have welcomed the findings of the report but have warned that the cost-of-living crisis will make the ongoing situation in adult social care worse.
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: “While this government pledged to ‘fix’ social care, it is clear that in reality, this is far from having been achieved.
“Against a backdrop of increasing workforce pressures, inflation, and a cost-of-living crisis, the sector finds itself in a more precarious position than ever before.”
Professor Green has urged the next prime minister to meet the recommendations laid out in the report within the first one-hundred days of their tenure.
The Department of Health and Social Care was contacted for comment.