Years of inadequate funding for social care were inevitably going to have consequences. A combination of reduced funding and higher staff costs, following the ‘living wage’ increase have put profitability under severe strain across the care sector. As a result, care providers are beginning to hand back contracts, with 57% of local authorities experiencing this within the last six months.
The hard facts
A 2015 report predicted that the number of care homes would fall by 10% within the next four years. This is equivalent to 1,500 care homes, or 37,000 beds. As costs rise and funding levels reduce further, it is estimated that as many as one quarter of all care homes are ‘at risk of closure’. The latest casualty looks likely to be ‘Four Seasons’, which has lost almost £28m in the three months leading up to September.
By 2035, almost a quarter of the UK population will be made up of those over the age of 65. The figure currently stands at around 18%, representing a 33% increase in the number of over 65s. This makes clear the enormity of the challenge we face as a society trying to balance rapidly increasing demand for care with an increasingly limited budget.
So where do we go from here?
There is no doubt that the government could and should do more. The fact that social care did not even get a mention in the Autumn Statement was shameful and councils are now scrambling to find additional funding.
The Local Government financial settlement for 2017-2018 is due to be announced on Thursday. Increasing the council tax precept is being seriously considered, while another option would be to bring forward the Better Care Fund allocation. While additional funding is welcome, these are short-term fixes. They do nothing to address the fundamental problem that huge demographic shifts will make it very difficult for the state to fund social care so comprehensively in the coming decades. The emerging reality of 21st century care is that care will need to be increasingly self-funded, and more effort needs to be to made to make the public aware of this.
As to what type of care this will be, it is evident that large-scale residential-care homes do not represent value for money. Our annual survey has already shown that the average annual cost is now above £30,000, and very few cite it as their preference when it comes to care. In order to maximise both public and private investment going forward, home care must be at the heart of the solution. The vast majority of people would prefer to be cared for in the comfort of their own home and it is a far more affordable alternative that is fit for the realities of the 21st century. Ultimately we have to accept the inconvenient truth that in order to receive the quality of care we all desire, it will be necessary to make a significant contribution towards it.