The Government has today been accused of giving social care the ‘bare minimum’ needed to stop it from collapsing, after it halved a cash injection for reforms.
In a white paper on adult social care reform, published in December 2021, the Government pledged to invest ‘at least’ £500million in England over three years to ‘transform the way we support the social care workforce’.
However, the Department of Health today said that the reforms, which will fund hundreds of thousands of training places and create a new care qualification, will only be backed by £250million.
Charities, unions and think tanks today hit out at the move as an ‘insult’ to the sector and warned that the Government was doing the ‘bare minimum needed’ to stop the sector from collapsing.
But the Government insists the reforms gives the care sector the ‘status it deserves’ and aims to ‘make a care system we can be proud of’.
The government has halved its funding to develop the social care workforce. At least £500million was pledged for reforms but now the figure is just £250million
Some industry organisations said the plans weren’t good enough but Social care minister Helen Whately (pictured) said the proposed reforms would give social care ‘the status it deserves’
The 2021 People at the Heart of Care White Paper included plans to invest ‘at least £150million’ in digitisation across the sector.
The Government said that figure is now £100million, which will cover investment in digital social care records, as it said £50million had already been spent.
The latest announcement did not mention a previously announced £25million to support unpaid carers or £300million mentioned in the White Paper to integrate housing into local health and care strategies.
Asked about these, the Department of Health said the support for unpaid carers will be set out ‘in due course’.
The Government has insisted that no funding for the adult social care sector has been removed or re-allocated to the NHS.
It said up to £600million mentioned in the white paper has ‘not yet been allocated’ but will be targeted on measures that ‘have the most impact’ over the next two years.
It said the social care workforce ‘is at the heart’ of its plans but various organisations cast doubt, accusing the Government of betraying the sector.
The move comes as capacity in the sector is at record lows, with 165,000 staff vacancies due to recruitment and retention issues.
The crisis has been blamed, in part, for fuelling delays in hospitals, with NHS data showing that thousands of beds every day are occupied by patients medically fit to leave because there is no suitable nursing accommodation or care available for them in the community.
Sally Warren, director of policy at think tank the King’s Fund, said the Government appeared to be ‘silent’ on its previous commitment to unpaid carers.
She said the revised plan was, at best, the ‘bare minimum needed’ to stop the sector from collapsing.
Ms Warren said it was ‘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’.
The Independent Care Group, which represents providers in York and North Yorkshire, said they were no longer convinced by Government pledges.
Chair Mike Padgham described the Government’s announcement as ‘yet another cruel and unfair cut to the funding we need to provide help and support to older and vulnerable people’.
He added: ‘We need every penny of funding and cannot afford to have £250million removed at a stroke like this.
‘The Government insists that all promised funding will stay within the sector but we cannot believe a word they tell us anymore.’
Natasha Curry, deputy director of policy at the Nuffield Trust, said the revised plans would be ‘seen as a betrayal’ by those working in the sector and those needing care.
She said the funding announcement was a ‘particularly low blow amid a cost of living and recruitment and retention crisis affecting social care’.
Ms Curry accused the Government of a ‘smoke and mirrors attempt to sow confusion bundling these cuts alongside pre-announced funding on the fair cost of care and better care fund’.
Jackie O’Sullivan, of learning disability charity Mencap, described the plan as ‘an insult to a sector that was once treated as a priority for Government’.
Unions also criticised the announcement, with the GMB calling for ‘proper investment’ to keep workers in the sector ‘not more broken promises’.
Meanwhile, Unison said that by ‘slashing those already inadequate plans (from 2021), ministers have proved they have nothing but disregard for the sector’.
The government has defended its social care plan and said the budget has not yet been fully allocated. Pictured: Social care minister Helen Whately speaking at the Care England conference in London on March 16
TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: ‘The Government promised to throw a protective ring around social care. But instead, it is presiding over a perfect storm.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer today told broadcasters that the announcement was ‘a betrayal from the Government of older people and those with needs in social care’, saying the Tories had ‘promised a lot and now they’re delivering almost nothing’.
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said elderly and disabled people ‘will be the victims of the Conservatives’ decision to slash funding for recruiting care workers at a time of chronic staff shortages’.
However, social care minister Helen Whately said the package ‘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.’
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 of Health 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 £1.6billion will be allocated over the next two years to improve hospital discharge.