Care and contingency

MargaretWheeler.jpgMargaret Wheeler on the need for Ministers to address deeper problems in the residential care sector

Today in the Lords, Labour will lead a debate on the deep financial crisis facing the residential care sector. In the course of the debate, we will highlight the threat to the well-being of thousands of elderly care home residents. It is an issue that cannot wait.

Earlier this week, key players and stakeholders representing national charities, private and voluntary sector care home providers, and NHS and social care managers, wrote once more to the Chancellor, George Osborne repeating their dire warnings. 1500 care homes beds have been lost in England during the past year. What’s more, the biggest provider – the Four Seasons Group – is reported as being on the brink of financial collapse, with rising debts of over £500 million. 

This week has also seen two respected independent bodies – the Kings Fund and the Nuffield Trust –delivered their verdict on Mr Osborne’s Spending Review. Both state that the measures announced to address the current funding crisis cannot make up for the huge cuts made by the government. Let alone meet the increased costs of rising demand, and paying the National Living Wage for care staff from next April.

The latest figures from the Public Accounts Committee show that local government has had an overall cut in real terms of 37% since 2010. Under the Chancellor’s latest plans, £2bn extra funding per year will be raised by allowing local authorities to increase Council Tax by 2%. But the independent analysis shows that the increase would yield £800 million a year at most, and also widen the gap in provision between poorer and richer areas. Councils in the North, Midlands and inner London with the greatest need for social care will lose out because they won’t be able to raise the income to make a difference.  

Osborne has also promised £1.5bn for local authorities from the Better Care Fund – albeit in two years’ time, with nothing available to address the crisis now. There are also key questions of how much of this allocation is ‘new’ or just money shuffled around the system? Or taken from the NHS?

The conclusions of the Kings Fund and Nuffield Trust is damning: the Spending Review proposals are ‘another setback for those who need social care’.

Labour and key social care organisations are also pressing Ministers to find out what happened to the £6bn that would have been spent next year implementing the cap to care costs. This would have benefitted 35,000 people immediately, but implementation has been delayed for four years.  So much for the government’s commitment.

The residential care sector is in a perilous state. We will be seeking assurances today that there are full contingency plans to ensure alternative care for care home residents if any of the providers go bankrupt. And we will ask the government to confirm the full funding of the National Living Wage – something that is vital for the future of social care, and which will address chronic staff shortages as well as low pay. 

Baroness Margaret Wheeler is a member of the Shadow Health team in the House of Lords

Published 10th December 2015

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