By Kari Gerstheimer | June 15, 2022
Kari Gerstheimer, Chief Executive of Access Social Care, shares her opinion on the cost-of-living crisis and explains how its impacting the social care sector and the people it supports.
When are windfalls like swings and roundabouts? It might sound like a cryptic crossword clue, but when Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced his £15bn cost-of-living package and windfall tax last month, my reaction was part relief, part alarm – a very ‘swings and roundabouts’ reaction.
The relief came from the financial support which will be provided to those in need alongside one-off disability and pension payments. The universal £400 energy grant which all households will receive will go some way to alleviating the severe financial pressure which millions are currently feeling across the UK, while the extra funds for those at the more disadvantaged end of the spectrum will help those who need it the most.
What was the cause of alarm and disappointment for me, was the failure of this Government to adequately target the support to protect those who need it the most. Without additional funding from the Government, older and disabled people will continue to be neglected and deprived of the social care they are entitled to.
Not a targeted approach
We welcome the Government’s announcement to provide additional financial assistance to alleviate some of the pressure, in which millions are feeling across the country as the cost-of-living crisis starts to make an impact. Despite this, there is a clear failure to make an arrangement that is more targeted. This only heightens concerns about what will happen to older and disabled people with social care needs, who continue to bear the brunt of the ongoing cost of living crisis. This will undoubtedly worsen come the winter months.
Whilst the Government also plans to invest a further £5.4bn over the next three years to finance system reforms to social care, I am also in agreement, with the recent comments from the Leveling Up Committee during their meeting about long-term funding of care, that this sector is in dire need of reform.
Cost of reform
In May, the County Council’s Network (CCN) reported that the costs of reforms over the coming decade could be a minimum of £10bn higher than currently estimated. This would mean that those with social care needs will have to fill the shortfall. For many of these people, their pockets will not be deep enough and risk going without care altogether at risk to life and health. The same CCN report suggests approximately 200,000 more assessments per annum will need to be conducted – 50,000 more than the Government estimate. With more than 500,000 people already on waiting lists for assessments across England, much more needs to be done to ensure that funding is provided in line with need at a local level, because the current lack of financing continues to infringe on adequate care provision.
As charges for care rise and the cost-of-living crisis causes household incomes to become ever more stretched, the Government’s persistent failure to address the pressures on social care will lead to millions of care users going without the support they need to live fulfilled and meaningful lives. I continue to see shocking evidence of the stark disparity between the (under) estimation for what is needed in the sector and what local councils are seeing on the ground.
Access Social Care’s recent State of the Nation report collates data from a range of national helplines and paints a desperate picture of the English social care system. There has been a staggering 229% increase in the number of social care needs assessment enquiries in the year 2021-22 compared to 2019-20 and an 88% increase in enquiries that were identified as needing specialist legal advice.
I continue to become ever more concerned about working-age disabled people. The reality is that these proposed reforms and additional Government financing fail to fairly consider this group. With no plans to increase the Minimum Income Guarantee (MIG), the amount of money that disabled people are left with is insufficient and unacceptable. Without the funds to buy food and heat their homes, all too many people are having to make the difficult choice not to take up their social care as they can’t keep up with bills. These necessities should never be interchangeable, nor should older and disabled adults be trapped financially on the bare minimum and permanently struggling.
In order to relieve the funding pressure on local governments and allow for adults to access social care even in times of economic crisis, we need proper calculations to ensure the reforms are funded correctly. This means focusing on how we can improve the lives of people with social care needs and creating a system that recognises the value of those within it. We also need to recognise that failure to invest in social care is a false economy. At Access Social Care we see time and again that a failure to invest in a few hours of social care support, ends up with older and disabled people requiring costly emergency medical care.
The social care sector is facing a perfect storm. As the cost of living is soaring, and care staff are quitting for higher wages in lower skilled jobs, local authorities are battling with overstretched resources and tight budgets. We need immediate, increased, and targeted financing to ensure nobody is left without the essential social care they are entitled to.