The government has been accused of “kick[ing] the can down the road again” after revealing that funding promised to bolster the adult social care workforce has been halved.
The People at the Heart of Care white paper, published in December 2021, said that £1.7bn would be allocated to social care reform over three years.
“Those in need of care and those who deliver it need and deserve a lot better”
This included £500m investment in workforce, £150m for technology and digitisation, £300m to integrate housing into local health and care strategies and £70m to help local authorities to improve the delivery and standard of care.
However, an update today from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) only committed £250m to workforce, rather than the £500m initially promised.
Part of the £500m was set to be dedicated to improving mental health and wellbeing support for social care staff through initiatives such as counselling, peer-to-peer coaching and “workplace improvements”.
However, the government’s latest plans included no mention of mental health and wellbeing.
As well as the £250m for workforce, DHSC confirmed the allocations of five other funding streams today:
- £100m investment in digitisation in the sector – £50m has already been spent on improvements;
- A new social care innovation and improvement unit is backed by up to £35m;
- A £1.4bn market sustainability and improvement fund;
- £102m over two years for home adaptations;
- £50m to improve social care insight, data, and quality assurance.
The announcement did not mention the £300m previously set aside for the integration of housing into health and care strategies.
DHSC told Nursing Times sister title LGC that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities had now taken on responsibility for the £300m fund.
Care minister Helen Whatley said the package “focuses on recognising care with the status it deserves, while also focusing on the better use of technology, the power of data and digital care records, and extra funding for councils – aiming to make a care system we ca be proud of”.
Figures in the NHS and social care sectors have voiced their concern at the cut to workforce funding.
Sarah McClinton, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said: “The government has a strong long-term vision for improving adult social care, but this plan leaves their vision in tatters.
“It ducks the hard decisions and kicks the can down the road again before the next election.”
She warned that the government was holding back funding for the reform programme at a time when “adult social care is in crisis, with staff vacancies at an all-time high and half a million people waiting for care and support”.
Natasha Curry, deputy director of policy at the Nuffield Trust, branded the announcement “yet another ill-judged raid on a social care system already on the brink”.
“This multi-million-pound cut to the funds intended to improve the system will be seen as a betrayal by those working in the sector and the millions of people left struggling to access the care they need,” she said.
Meanwhile, chief executive of Skills for Care, Oonagh Smyth, criticised DHSC for not following through with its original pledge to use some of the £500m to support the mental health and wellbeing of the social care workforce.
“This multi-million-pound cut to the funds… will be seen as a betrayal by those working in the sector”
She said: “We know that people working in care feel burnt out so, without the originally planned investment in wellbeing, it’s important that we still find a way to focus on supporting their wellbeing and mental health.
“Many of them continue to struggle with the aftermath of the pandemic.”
Vic Rayner, chief executive of the National Care Forum, echoed these concerns, and said it was “unconscionable” that the government would reduce workforce funding and axe staff wellbeing measures.
In addition, Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, told Nursing Times that it was “disappointing” that the government had reduced the amount of money being invested in the social care workforce.
He said: “There is a lot of talk about integrating health and social care, and if this is to be made real, it has to include increasing the amount of money available in social care to develop the workforce.
“We will know when integration is succeeding because the amount of money that is put into the NHS for workforce development will be mirrored in social care.”
Also responding to the announcement, Unison’s head of social care, Gavin Edwards, said it proved that ministers “have nothing but disregard for the sector”.
He added: “With no national standards for pay and conditions, care workers will continue to quit en masse leaving thousands of vulnerable people without vital support.
“Those in need of care and those who deliver it need and deserve a lot better.”
Meanwhile, Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, noted that workforce capacity in the sector was “at its lowest”, citing the 165,000 staff vacancies.
She said: “The social care sector urgently needs sustainable funding and reform, but the longer we wait for this, the more pressure will be put on the entire health and care system.
“And while funding for discharges through the Better Care Fund is welcome, its impact will be limited without more investment in the social care workforce.”