The social care sector has been on the verge of financial catastrophe for months, and leaders in the sector have long been calling upon the government to provide it with more funding. But the latest spending review from the Chancellor, while offering a small reprieve, will ultimately provide little more than a sticking plaster.
In the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on the 25th November, local councils were given the power to raise funds for social care provision for the elderly, with the chancellor estimating this would boost budgets by £2bn. This is not an adequate solution however, and will fail to provide enough to cover the ever-rising cost of social care, especially as budgets continue to fall under the weight of 56% cuts to local government grants over the next five years.
In response to the news, the Local Government Association has anticipated that care services face a shortfall of more than £2.9bn by 2020 and critics have argued this move will do little to plug the gap. This is particularly true of some Northern Councils where lower council tax bands would see very little raised this way. It comes as yet more bad news for the social care sector; councils already have to find the money to fund an increased national living wage for thousands of care workers – predicted to total around £2bn – with the result that some care providers will go out of business.
Osborne’s move has been branded as ‘smoke and mirrors’ for shifting the burden of paying for social care to local government. The problem remains that there is not enough money in the care system. As highlighted in previous Prestige Nursing + Care blogs, a financially weak social care sector leads to additional pressure on the NHS by contributing to problems such as bed blocking. The NHS simply cannot afford to pick up the slack from a weakened social care sector, regardless of Osborne’s increase to the NHS budget which he also revealed in his Autumn Statement.
In a further blow to the sector, it was also announced that bursaries for trainee nurses will be replaced with loans. Hopeful nurses now face being saddled with thousands of pounds of debt that will take years to pay off, and this could potentially dissuade many from pursuing this career path – doubly concerning in an industry that already faces recruitment challenges. Although the cap of nursing places was lifted, the Chancellor has taken a gamble with the impact these changes will have.
What is clear, therefore, is the social care sector still faces multiple challenges regarding its funding and recruitment. Rather than passing the buck to local government, all groups need to work collaboratively to come up with an overarching solution and a long-term plan rather than a temporary measure.