By Lucette Davies
In Hampden Park alone I have met many elderly people whose lives are destroyed by the lack of social care provision. Although East Sussex County Council spends 50% of their revenue budget on adult social care, many people are left struggling. But unless we make changes to the system, we will see many more people denied care.
We have an increasingly ageing population in the UK so the demand for social care has risen. But local authorities have been hit by austerity since 2010 and forced to make cuts of their own. Covid 19 led to rising running costs for care homes and plunging bed occupancy rates. (In March 2021 the Guardian reported a total of 40,000 deaths from Covid 19 in UK care homes.) This combination of financial constraints, increasing numbers needing care and greater costs for the care home providers is a toxic mix
In England anyone with savings and assets worth over £23,500 is expected to pay for their own care needs. The local authority pays towards care for everyone else. In recent years we have seen private care homes charging self-funders on average 41% more than a local authority would pay. Self-funders are expected to pick up the tab for the funding shortfall of local authorities. Care homes where there are a higher percentage of residents paid for by the local authority are now at risk of going bankrupt.
The obvious solution is to look at how high-quality care can be provided at a lower cost. Carers in the community and in care homes are among the lowest paid workers in this country. Their work is so important to us all and requires considerable skill. It is not easy to provide the intimate care many people need sensitively and without damaging the person’s dignity. Carers often suffer from burn out and stress and abuse becomes more likely. The use of agency staff is expensive for care homes but necessary because of the high staff turnover.
The elephant in the room is really that care home owners, cream off 18-24% of the funding in profit.
Care homes owned by the local authority are not allowed to be adding costs to self- funders to compensate for their own funding shortfall. For our local authority it can be more expensive to fund somebody in a council owned care home than in a private care home. No wonder they are keen on seeing all care homes privately run.
But imagine a different scenario. Where all care homes are local authority owned. The 18-24% of the funding that now gets creamed off into profits gets spent on care. Some of that extra money goes into higher wages, more training and even a national care qualification? We then save on agency fees and have carers who are less likely to be abusive to residents. Good social care helps people stay well and takes pressure off the NHS. Who knows with this model we may even be able to afford to fill in all those pot-holes and fix our broken pavements. What is incomprehensible is that nobody seems to be even thinking about making this happen.