The TUC and leaders of the largest unions representing social care staff have demanded an urgent meeting with the government to discuss the “workforce crisis” in the sector following the decision to halve funding for staff in England.
In a joint letter to health minister Helen Whately today, TUC general secretary Paul Nowak and the general secretaries of UNISON, GMB and Unite, Christina McAnea, Gary Smith and Sharon Graham, declared that staffing is the “single biggest challenge facing adult social care”.
The union leaders wrote: “The disproportionately female, BME social care workforce delivers an essential public service. Yet ever-worsening pay and conditions combined with low morale have contributed to a recruitment and retention crisis.”
“Without an improvement in pay and conditions in social care, vacancy rates will continue to skyrocket, leaving millions without the care and support they urgently need,” the letter continued.
The Department for Health and Social Care announced on Tuesday that it is launching a call to evidence “on a new care workforce pathway and funding for hundreds of thousands of training places”, plans which the department said will be backed by £250m in funding.
But the government pledged in a white paper on adult social care – published in 2021 – to provide “at least £500m over the next three years to begin to transform the way we support the social care workforce”.
In their letter to Whately, the union leaders condemned Tuesday’s announcement as a “huge step backwards” and accused the government of having “no serious plan in place to address the social care staffing crisis for the long-term”.
They added: “The government promised to throw a protective ring around social care. But instead, it is presiding over a perfect storm. Therefore, we the undersigned, call for an urgent meeting with you as soon as possible to discuss our serious concerns about the social care workforce crisis and the critical next steps needed.”
Shadow social care minister Liz Kendall denounced Tuesday’s announcement as a “total betrayal of older and disabled people” and declared that the government has overseen “13 years of broken promises and failure on reform”, leaving the social care system “in crisis”.
“Older and disabled people deserve so much better than this. Labour will tackle record vacancies through a new deal for care workers and fundamentally shift the focus of support to prevention and early intervention, so that more people can be cared for in their own home, which is where they want to be,” she added.
Other measures set out by the government on Tuesday included providing £100m to the sector to accelerate digitisation and a new innovation and improvement unit “to explore creative solutions for improving care”, such as supporting local authorities to reduce care assessment waiting times, backed up by £35m.
Whately said the government’s plan “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”.
Jeremy Hunt announced in his autumn statement in November last year that planned reforms to the social care sector would be delayed for two years.
The Chancellor said local authorities had expressed “very real concerns” about their ability to deliver the Dilnot reforms – named after Andrew Dilnot, who led a review into social care funding under the coalition government.
Dilnot described the decision to delay the reforms as a “tragedy”. He told LBC radio in January: “The problem is not whether they’ve delivered my proposals or anybody else’s proposals, they haven’t done anything.
“We have an enormous challenge as a society. We have fabulous people willing to deliver the care. And we’re not looking after either the people who need the care or the people who are delivering it properly, and we should be ashamed of ourselves.”
Below is the full text of the letter to health minister Helen Whately.
Dear Helen Whately MP,
Re: Addressing the adult social care workforce crisis
The need for accessible, quality social care services is felt by every family and community in this country. There’s an ageing population and an increasing number of people with complex and long-term support needs. Yet the adult social care system is in crisis.
Staffing is the single biggest challenge facing adult social care. The disproportionately female, BME social care workforce delivers an essential public service. Yet ever-worsening pay and conditions combined with low morale have contributed to a recruitment and retention crisis.
Four out of ten care workers earn less than real living wage and nine in ten earn less than the £15 per hour unions are calling for. Skills for Care data from last October shows there are currently around 165,000 social care vacancies. That’s an increase of 52% on the figures for 2020-21. Almost a quarter (24%) of the sector are employed on zero-hours contracts.
This has a real impact on the lives of people who rely on care services. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has identified that 1.5 million hours of commissioned home care could not be provided between August and October 2021 because of a lack of staff. Huge service backlogs meant that nearly 300,000 people without care as they waited for social care assessments in April 2022.
Without an improvement in pay and conditions in social care, vacancy rates will continue to skyrocket, leaving millions without the care and support they urgently need.
The December 2021 white paper People at the Heart of Care promised “at least £500m over the next three years to begin to transform the way we support the social care workforce”. This would be provided with “dedicated investment in knowledge, skills, health and wellbeing” alongside “new universal career structures and training opportunities”.
This week’s announcement by the Department of Health and Social Care is a huge step backwards. The training and development fund has been halved from the £500m pledged to £250m. Investment to support health and wellbeing among the social care workforce is nowhere to be seen. And with no sign of the long-awaited workforce strategy, there is no serious plan in place to address the social care staffing crisis for the long-term.
The government promised to throw a protective ring around social care. But instead, it is presiding over a perfect storm.
Therefore, we the undersigned, call for an urgent meeting with you as soon as possible to discuss our serious concerns about the social care workforce crisis and the critical next steps needed.
Paul Nowak, TUC general secretary
Christina McAnea, UNISON general secretary
Gary Smith, GMB general secretary
Sharon Graham, Unite the Union general secretary
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