Funding promised for the social care workforce in England has been halved, the Government has confirmed.
Millions of pounds have been removed from previously announced funding for a sector which a recent report warned is “on the precipice” amid rising costs and difficulty recruiting staff.
In its People at the Heart of Care White Paper on adult social care reform, published in December 2021, the Government pledged to invest “at least £500 million over the next three years to begin to transform the way we support the social care workforce”.
It said this “dedicated investment in knowledge, skills, health and wellbeing and recruitment policies will improve social care as a long-term career choice”.
But the Department of Health and Social Care has now said its “call for evidence in partnership with Skills for Care on a new care workforce pathway and funding for hundreds of thousands of training places, including a new Care Certificate qualification”, would be backed by £250 million.
The 2021 White Paper also promised to invest “at least £150 million” in digitisation across the sector.
The department said that figure is now £100 million, which will cover investment in digital social care records, as it said £50 million had already been spent.
Tuesday’s announcement did not mention the previously-announced £25 million to support unpaid carers or the £300 million mentioned in the white paper to integrate housing into local health and care strategies.
The King’s Fund health think tank said the measures were “a dim shadow of the widescale reform to adult social care that this Government came into office promising” while Age UK described them as not being “remotely enough to transform social care”.
Social care minister Helen Whately, who spoke at the annual Care England conference last month to insist she was part of a Government that “backs social care”, said the package announced on Tuesday “focuses on recognising care with the status it deserves”.
She said: “Care depends completely on the people who do the caring – that’s over a million care staff working in care homes and agencies, and countless relatives, friends and volunteers, acting out of the kindness of their hearts.
“That’s why this package of reforms 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 can be proud of.”
A report released in March from Care England and the Hft care provider for people with learning disabilities warned that adult social care was “on the precipice” when it came to costs, with 42% of those surveyed having closed down part of their organisation or handed back contracts to local authorities due to financial pressures.
The low level of pay for care staff was considered the biggest barrier to recruitment and retention, the report said.
In its announcement on Tuesday, the Government said its “refreshed plan to bolster the adult social care workforce” would speed up discharge from hospital and accelerate the use of technology in the sector over the next two years.
The department said it will launch an Older People’s Housing Taskforce in partnership with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities “to decide how best to provide a greater range of suitable housing depending on the support people need”.
It said £1.6 billion will be allocated over the next two years to improve hospital discharge.
Recent analysis by the King’s Fund estimated that delays in people leaving hospital in England could be costing an average of £395 per night, and suggested issues with social care and housing could be contributing to delayed discharges.
The Government said it remains “fully dedicated to the 10-year vision for adult social care set out in the People at the Heart of Care White Paper”.
At the autumn statement, the Government pledged to support adult social care services “backed by up to £7.5 billion over the next two years” to help local authorities address waiting lists and workforce pressures in the sector.
The Chancellor’s spring statement in March was criticised by various organisations in the sector for failing to mention social care.
King’s Fund director of policy Sally Warren questioned why the Government appeared to be “silent” on its previous commitment to unpaid carers and branded it “short-sighted for Government to row back on what was already minimal funding and limited efforts to reform and improve social care in areas such as housing, technology and supporting the workforce”.
Age UK’s director Caroline Abrahams said millions of older and disabled people and their unpaid carers “needed something far bigger, bolder and more genuinely strategic to give them hope for the future”.
She added: “The truth is the measures in this plan are generally quite modest and foundational, so although mostly welcome in themselves, they aren’t remotely enough to transform social care, and that’s what we needed to see today.
“With quite a chunk of the money originally promised for care now no longer available, our CSA (Care Support Alliance) members are telling us this is just the latest in a long series of disappointments so far as recent government performance on social care is concerned.”
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