Barbara Keeley MP is the Shadow Cabinet Member for Social Care. Care Talk caught up with Barbara and asked her about her views on the current challenges in the sector and her vision for the future of social care.
I was first involved in social care as a local councillor and Vice-Chair of Social Services in Trafford, Greater Manchester from 1995 to 1997. This was the time of increasing contracting out of care provision, with the Thatcher and Major governments directing councils to contract out 85% of care home services and to cap costs. But much home care was still provided by local authorities. In 1990, only 3% of homecare was contracted out by councils but in the following ten to fifteen years this changed to 90% of homecare services being contracted out.
Now we again see growing budget cuts limiting what local authorities are able to pay for care places and home care, at a time of growing demand for care from people, both older and working age, who have increasingly complex needs.
Directors of Adult Social Care report that adult social care budgets cuts are due to reach £6.3 billion by March 2018. Many care providers who offer entirely local authority-funded care report that these funding cuts are forcing them to hand back care contracts or to close altogether. Between March 2016 and March 2017 over two hundred care homes closed, amounting to more than 2,000 beds.
The crisis in social care has been described by the Care Quality Commission as leading to the care sector being at a “tipping point” and the chair of the National Care Association has said, “We are now beyond the crisis point. We really are at the edge of the cliff now.”
Quality in care often hinges on finding and retaining the right staff. Paying increased staff costs with diminishing funding means that recruitment and retention of care staff is a real challenge, particularly in areas where pay in other sectors is higher. There are now around 90,000 social care staff vacancies at any one time. Around 345,000 people leave their job in social care every year – that’s 900 every day.
So, how will this crisis be solved?
During the snap General Election of 2017, my party pledged an extra £8 Billion for social care, with an immediate injection of £1 billion to ease the funding crisis.
Labour has a realistic vision of a National Care Service, paid for by sharing or pooling the risk of paying for care across the population, so no-one ends up paying hundreds of thousands of pounds for care, as they do now.
However, after the General Election debate on the new Conservative proposals for funding care which became known as the “Dementia Tax”, Theresa May’s government fell silent on the funding issues. There were no speeches or mention of social care at the Conservative Party conference and no extra funding in the Local Government Funding Settlement before Christmas.
The Government is now proposing a consultation and a Green Paper on the long-term funding of social care. But this will not be solution so urgently needed. Since 1999, there have been twelve Green Papers, White Papers and consultations and four independent reviews, but no lasting reform of social care funding. The Government’s timetable may mean no firm policy proposals will be seen until at least the middle of 2019 or even later.
We need an urgent injection of funding into the care system straight away, to ease the pressure on councils and care providers and on hard-pressed care staff. We need to ensure that people who need care and their families can ensure they get best quality care possible
Improving the quality of social care is a vital part of providing dignity in older age and independence and support for people who are vulnerable or have a disability or a mental health condition. I want to see 2018 become the year in which we identify the solutions that could make improving the quality of adult social care a reality.
We need an urgent injection of funding into the care system to ease the pressure on hard-pressed care staff”