Sector Pulse Check 2019

February 4, 2020

Hft has released its annual Sector Pulse Check 2019 report, looking at the financial health of the social care sector over the past year.

The report's findings show that the number of social care providers who say they have been forced to cut support for vulnerable adults has doubled in the last 12 months as a direct result of financial pressures. One in five organisations reported offering care to fewer individuals as a means of balancing the books (a rise of 12% from 2018), with 95% citing rising wage bills as the main drain on resources.

A third of providers (33%) also cited having to shed staff in the past year, while almost half (45%) have closed down some parts of the organisation and/or handed back contracts. 52% expected to have to do so in the future.

Hft’s Sector Pulse Check 2019 report was carried out by independent economics and business consultancy Cebr, and focuses primarily on learning disability providers. Based on survey analysis from social care providers, it provides an annual snapshot of the social care sector's finances over the past year and an indication of how providers anticipate the next twelve months will progress.

In last year’s report, 11% of providers warned that further cuts in funding could lead to a reduction in the quality of care. This year, 43% of providers said that they had witnessed a negative effect on the quality of care they were able to provide, citing an increase in complaints, worsening Care Quality Commission (CQC) accreditations and a decrease in morale as the most severe indicators of a decline in standards.

Billy Davis, Public Affairs and Policy Manager for Hft, said, 'As our Sector Pulse report shows, the sad reality is that the social care sector has run out of options. While in the previous report providers were focusing on streamlining through internal efficiency savings, we can now clearly see that cuts are affecting people, not just processes.

'The lack of a sustainable cash injection for the sector has seen providers resorting to offering care to fewer people to manage spiralling costs at a time when demand for social care is widely acknowledged to be growing.

'The fact that providers are now having to take what they reported to be their least favoured cost cutting measures illustrates that these decisions are not being taken lightly. A lack of alternatives has left providers with no choice but to make decisions culturally at odds with the way they want to run their organisations, such as handing back services and, ironically, shedding staff in the midst of a sector-wide recruitment crisis.

'Given the fragility of the social care sector, there’s never been a more important time to hear the views of the organisations providing care for some of the most vulnerable people in society. This report is an opportunity to hear the collective voices on the issues facing the sector and we must listen. It’s clear that at its heart social care funding is, and continues to remain, a national issue that requires a national solution.'

The report also highlighted that:

  • Providers are taking action to promote positive mental health within their organisations: 67% of respondents are sign-posting to mental health services, while other steps taken include implementing mental health awareness training (66%) and introducing relevant employee benefits packages (59%).
  • The sector recognises the benefits of technology: 76% of providers say the use of technology enhances the lives of the people they support. However, while three quarters of providers use technology as part of their services, 81% say they are not using it to its full potential.
  • The social care workforce shares a common motivation: 78% of providers believe staff embark on a career in social care to make a difference to the lives of vulnerable adults.

Josie Dent, Senior Economist at Cebr, said, 'Pressure on social care providers to cut costs while also paying for increasing wage bills and agency worker fees has ultimately culminated in organisations taking drastic measures. The share of providers now offering care to fewer individuals doubled compared to last year’s survey. Meanwhile, the proportion having to make internal efficiency savings, close parts of the organisation or hand back services to local authorities remained high. The sector desperately needs more funding in order to provide the same level of care and support to the people who need it.'

Dr Rhidian Hughes, Chief Executive of Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG) said, 'For far too long successive governments have overlooked the investment and reform of the social care system, and this new report clearly demonstrates the impact of that oversight.

'The under-resourcing of England’s social care system cannot continue. As demand for services increases, some providers are being forced to support fewer people, others are reporting a lower quality of care. It is, however, disabled people and their families who are affected. This is simply not acceptable.

'High-quality support services for disabled people can be transformative, yet for social care providers operating in such an under-funded, over-stretching operating environment, the ability to invest in innovative solutions and services is almost impossible as instead the focus lies on staying afloat.

'Central government must take steps immediately to agree and implement the delivery of a sustainable solution that reverses these deeply worrying trends, creating a social care system that is both resourced and supported.'

Hft is now calling for the Department of Health and Social Care to bring forward their long-overdue proposals on reforms for the long-term future funding of adult social care.

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