England’s social care system is at risk of collapse because of a chronic staff shortage, low wages and an ageing population, the spending watchdog warns today.
In a damning report, the National Audit Office said the high turnover of staff was having a devastating impact on continuity of care for the elderly.
There are 1.3million care workers, but two million will be needed by 2035 to cope with the rising number of elderly people.
England’s social care system is at risk of collapse because of a chronic staff shortage, low wages and an ageing population, the spending watchdog warns today. In a damning report, the National Audit Office said the high turnover of staff was having a devastating impact on continuity of care for the elderly (stock)
On top of this, care homes are at increasing risk of going under because cash-strapped councils can’t afford their fees.
The NAO report said England’s care system was too complex, with 20,300 different organisations delivering it.
It claimed the crisis was so severe that some areas could be left without care homes altogether.
Sir Amyas Morse, who runs the NAO, said social care had become a ‘Cinderella’ service in which workers no longer felt valued or rewarded.
Almost 7 per cent of jobs in the social-care sector are vacant, and projections show that the care workforce needs to grow by 2.6 per cent a year to keep pace with rising the elderly population.
However, the workforce is only rising by 2 per cent at the most – meaning the shortage will only increase.
The NAO said it was hard to fill care-worker vacancies because it was a tough job with low prestige and poor pay.
The median wage is £7.50 an hour – just £14,600 a year. Almost a third earn the minimum wage or less.
Low pay, among other things, has pushed the turnover rate to 28 per cent, undermining continuity of care for the vulnerable.
The NAO report concluded: ‘The care sector is undervalued and its workers poorly rewarded. Providers are having increasingly difficulty recruiting and retaining workers, and the number of individuals with some level of unmet care needs is increasing.’
It said the Department of Health had failed to boost employment in the sector, adding: ‘The actions taken by the Department in its oversight role have not demonstrably improved the sustainability of the workforce and so have not achieved value for money.
‘The Department needs to address this challenge urgently and give the care workforce the attention it requires, so that the sector has the right people to provide consistently safe and high-quality care.’
Age UK said the shortage of care workers meant the care needs of 1.2million vulnerable people were not being met.
Caroline Abrahams, its charity director, added: ‘Social care is a fundamental public service on which millions of older people come to rely and it depends on there being sufficient numbers of well-trained, skilled and motivated people to do the job.
‘This report is a damning indictment of the failure of successive governments to carry out workforce planning, and the result is the dangerously fragile situation we see today.’
There are 1.3million care workers, but two million will be needed by 2035 to cope with the rising number of elderly people. On top of this, care homes are at increasing risk of going under because cash-strapped councils can’t afford their fees (stock image)
The NAO report also said that care jobs lacked kudos and advancement opportunities, adding: ‘Roles in the care sector suffer from low prestige and perceived poorer options for career progression compared with similar roles in the NHS.’
The vacancy rate for registered nursing jobs in the care sector has more than doubled to 9 per cent since 2013, and many care organisations are reliant on workers from the rest of the EU.
Sir Amyas said: ‘Social care cannot continue as a Cinderella service – without a valued and rewarded workforce, adult social care cannot fulfil its crucial role of supporting elderly and vulnerable people in society.
‘Demands on the health and social care systems are increasing, so the Department needs to respond quickly by giving the sector the attention it needs, instead of falling short and not delivering value for money.’
Barbara Keeley, Labour’s social care spokesman, said: ‘Cuts to social care budgets will reach £6.3billion by March, which means worse pay and conditions for overstretched care staff, whose numbers are not keeping up with ever-increasing demand for care from older people and vulnerable working-age people.’
4m spend a day a week caring for old relative
More than four million adults spend the equivalent of one working day a week caring for an elderly relative, according to a study.
It found those helping an elderly relative make an average of seven visits a week, totalling seven hours and 48 minutes.
The number providing support to older family members is expected to grow by a further 6.6million over the next five years. The poll of 2,000 adults revealed more than a quarter (26 per cent) have to make two visits a day.
And 57 per cent have to juggle caring responsibilities with a full-time job or looking after their children at the same time, according to the study by the home insurer Neos.
A total of 26 per cent had turned to friends or neighbours to help them with their elderly relatives.
Thousands still get 15-minute care visits
Thousands of vulnerable people still receive ‘flying’ 15-minute care visits from overstretched home helps, a survey has found.
Disability charity Leonard Cheshire said one in seven councils in England still provide the ‘degrading’ visits.
They give care workers less than a quarter of an hour to provide intimate care such as helping people go to the toilet or have a bath. The charity’s research revealed that in England, Scotland and Wales at least 18,875 people received personal care visits of 15 minutes or less in 2016/17. The figure is likely to be even higher as many councils did not respond to Freedom of Information requests.
Flying visits in England go against official guidance within the Care Act 2014 that they are not appropriate for those needing support with intimate care.