Urgent action is needed to tackle the chronic lack of funding and staffing crisis in social care, a report warns today.
The National Audit Office said social care in England has become a “Cinderella service” with workers underpaid and under valued.
Despite an increase in the number of people needing care, there are 90,000 unfilled staff vacancies, the watchdog found.
In the last year the number of vacancies was 6.6% (88,440) and staff turnover was 27.8%.
The watchdog says care homes are struggling to recruit staff because of the low wages.
Half of the 1.34million care workers in the UK are paid £7.50 per hour or below – £14,625 a year.
The report says: “The one-and-a-half million people working in adult social care in England provide essential support to adults with care needs, yet the care sector is undervalued and its workers poorly rewarded.
“Providers are having increasing difficulty recruiting and retaining workers, and the number of individuals with some level of unmet care needs is increasing.”
And it says vacancies could rise because of the funding crisis.
The report adds: “The Department cannot demonstrate that the sector is sustainably funded,
which makes workforce planning difficult.
“Between 2010-11 and 2016-17, spending on care by local authorities (including funding transferred from the NHS through the Better Care Fund), reduced by 5.3% in real terms.
“Spending power for local authorities, in total, is forecast to reduce a further 0.2% in real terms between 2017-18 and 2019-20, despite rising demand, increased complexity of care, and financial pressure such as the
National Living Wage.”
Despite these challenges, the Audit Office says the Department for Health and Social Care ‘does not have a current workforce strategy’.
The report states: “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.”
UNISON’s assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “This damning report exposes the government’s lamentable approach to social care, which is letting down elderly and disabled people, as well as the dedicated staff looking after them.
“Years of underfunding mean local councils can no longer put enough money into care to meet the needs of an ageing population.
“Elderly and disabled residents, care staff and the NHS are all losing out as a result.
“Without urgent ministerial action, the sector will continue its slow motion collapse.
“Care staff work long hours, doing difficult jobs for pay that’s barely above the minimum wage.
“Many actually take home an illegal wage because some employers don’t include travel time as part of the working day.
“A growing number of local councils have signed UNISON’s residential and ethical care charters, committing them to better pay, quality training and improved levels of care.
“But there is a total absence of national leadership from the government. “It’s time ministers took their heads out of the sand, spent less time hypnotised by their Brexit dilemmas and started to address one of the most pressing issues of our time.”
Labour MP Meg Hillier, the chair of the Public Accounts committee, added: “The NAO’s report shows the social care workforce is in a precarious state.
“We are increasingly dependent on care workers to look after ourselves and our families, yet the profession suffers from low pay, low esteem, and high turnover of staff.
“The Department of Health and Social Care needs to address these issues urgently.
“To date it has done little to help councils and providers prevent a looming workforce crisis.
“The Secretary of State has had ‘social care’ added to his title, but this change of name must be backed up by action to tackle this problem and reduce pressures on the NHS. He needs to act now.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Everyone is entitled to good quality care and we recognise there are challenges – that’s why we will shortly publish a health and care workforce strategy to address these issues.
“We’ve provided an extra £2 billion funding to the sector and this week announced a further £150 million for next year – in the summer we will outline plans to reform social care to ensure it is sustainable for the future.”