August 3, 2022
Julie Tyas, Senior Qualified and Registered Social Worker and Senior Social Care Consultant, Access Health, Support & Care, shares her views on the care cap funding announcement.
The recent State of the Nation report from charity Access Social Care shows a 229% increase in social care needs assessment enquiries between 2019/20 and 2021/22. Alongside this, there are well-documented shortages of social care workers, with some care providers struggling with shortages of up to 40%.
These factors place our sector under great strain and, as a result, the £15.5m of funding recently allocated to local authorities for social care charging reform will be a drop in the ocean. Thankfully, there are aspects of the legislative change that have been delayed in response to concerns from local authorities – namely, the extension of Section 18(3) of the Care Act, and those already in residential care becoming eligible for council-led care arrangements from April 2025 at the latest. While this will help to stagger the volume of individuals requiring care accounts and provide more time to mitigate the risks, unfortunately it doesn’t go far enough to providing the support and resources that councils desperately need to be ready for the introduction of the care cap in October 2023.
While there is more support on the way, with additional funding for implementation in social care expected in April 2023 as outlined in Operational Guidance, there is little clarity on how much funding they will receive, or if there will be guidance on how it should be spent. With just six months to spare between then and ‘D Day’, my concern is that it leaves too little time for authorities to make use of it.
The County Council Network estimates that around 5,000 new social workers are needed to manage the additional demands on local authorities. Yet, if you assume each council will receive around £100,000-£150,000 of the additional funding, this will pay for no more than two or three social care workers per authority. The supplementary solutions that can help with charging requirements, such as self-assessment tools and external assessors, will come at a cost too.
The care cap represents one of the biggest changes to care practices and entitlement in a generation. It will have a tremendous impact on how care is approached altogether and, traditionally, this type of reform would necessitate a significant change-management programme, involving comprehensive, collaborative consultation between all parties, as well as clear roadmaps for delivery, including stakeholder engagement, training plans and demand modelling to name just a few.
Instead, a deadline has been set by the Government, and local authorities and care providers are being told to meet it. Ideally, a consensus on the deadline should have been reached prior to the legislative reforms, based on what’s achievable – with input from the supplier industry, which is supporting its customers in adapting and introducing digital solutions to help prepare for the changes.
Considering these points, it feels like a missed opportunity not to have more consultation with local authorities and industry partners, in order to reach the shared end-goal of ensuring individuals get the best possible outcomes. Whilst the introduction of certain elements of the new legislation has now been delayed, the challenges in preparing for the care cap deadline remain. As such, there are common concerns about the lack of guidance for local authorities on how to approach these changes.
That said, we know councils are working hard to prepare for the inevitable, despite these difficult circumstances; for example, by working with technology suppliers to automate elements of the financial assessment process and to manage care invoices, as well as introducing citizen portals to help ‘triage’ the enquiries as they come in. We know technology can offer significant potential to help the already resource-strapped workforce. It’s just a shame that there’s added pressure on suppliers too, as they push to develop and refine these solutions within the tight timescales.
What’s needed now more than anything – as we take a leap of faith together in preparing for the changes – is certainty. Local authorities need to feel assured that they will have the resources, the workforce, the time, the funding and the supplementary solutions they need to deliver the best care for individuals. Ultimately, this is a once-in-a-generation change in the way that social care is structured – which is achievable – but they need the assurances and support to ensure the preparations are going to work.