2015 was a year that required a grand solution to a social care crisis that is rapidly becoming acute – and it is unfortunate that this has yet to materialise. May’s General Election was seen as a potential turning point in the sector’s fortunes, and although social care took a back seat on the electoral agenda, it was positive to see a range of parties at least acknowledge that the sector requires radical reform.
The Conservative Party’s victory was a cause for concern for the social care sector, given its track record of cutting services and reducing public sector funding. This isn’t to say that all of the government’s policies within the sector have been bad: the decision to defer the care cap until 2020, for example, shows that the government is at least willing to make some concessions.
A lot more is required of the government going forward, however. Sustained investment and a new approach to organisation are needed not only to stave off the collapse of the social care sector, but to alleviate the pressure that it over-spilling onto other services. The bed-blocking problem – which is a direct result of a lack of adequate social care provision – resulted in a loss of over £300 million for the health service over a six month period this year, which would have been far better spent elsewhere in the NHS.
The funding issue is also likely to be compounded by two key challenges facing the sector over the next decade. Firstly, the number of people requiring care is going to increase significantly alongside a population of over 65s that is set to have risen 49% by 2035. Furthermore, from next year the social care sector will also have to face huge additional costs from the increase in the National Minimum Wage. While workers in the sector clearly deserve a good deal, there are obvious concerns about where this money will come from. Unless the sector receives additional funding, standards could fall as employers struggle to meet their legally-binding pay obligations.
A funding solution to the current mess is therefore top of our wish list for 2016. While there are many deserving cases for extra funding within the public sector, the problems facing the social care sector are particularly morbid. Failure to act could be catastrophic.