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Councils call for delay for social care reforms, warning services already face a 'perfect storm'

With a year to go until the government's flagship reforms in social care are due to be implemented, the County Councils Network (CCN) has called for a delay - warning that the system is under so much pressure care services could be worsened if they are introduced too soon.

07/10/22

Councils call for delay for social care reforms, warning services already face a 'perfect storm'

The coalition of councils says it supports the adult social care reforms package, which includes a higher means-test threshold and a cap on care costs of £86,000. Both of these measures will extend eligibility for care services provided by local government.

However, it is warning that the care system is under serious pressure, with councils currently facing a 'perfect storm' of financial and workforce pressures which could be worsened if reforms are loaded on top of an already precarious system. County leaders say the government should delay its reforms for 12 months and introduce them in October 2024 - and use the extra time to provide funding to stabilise the system.

CCN has set out the pressures facing care services in the latest chapter of its Five Point Plan for County and Unitary Councils. The report highlights the challenges faced by councils in delivering social care presently, which included inflationary and staffing pressures. If the reforms are introduced as planned in October 2023, the network says these could worsen services by impacting on the availability and quality of care packages.

Inflation is set to add £3.7bn of additional costs to existing services by 2023, whilst councils face a workforce crisis at present with thousands of vacancies unfilled.

The network warns that councils will not be able to recruit an estimated extra 5,000 staff over the next 12 months to undertake an additional 197,000 care and financial assessments needed, which is a 45% increase on current levels. This level of extra demand will create longer waits for care packages, as at present there is a waiting list of almost 300,000.

With the Health Secretary Therese Coffey promising to ‘rebalance’ funding between health and social care, council leaders are calling on the government to ‘stabilise’ the social care sector by focusing on existing pressures and providing more funding for services to get through the next year, before introducing reforms in 2024.

Cllr Martin Tett, Adult Social Care Spokesperson for the County Councils Network, said that while the reforms package will make the charging system for social care fairer over time, he warned that capacity and financial issues will hamper their implementation.

“The government’s reforms package will make the charging system for social care fairer over time and councils across the country support their premise.

“However, the care system is facing a perfect storm of financial and workforce pressures. These reforms could exacerbate this by extending the eligibility of state support for care costs, provided by local authorities. Councils face a mountain of extra assessments that will be impossible to deliver because of current capacity and financial issues in local government.

“Loading these reforms onto a system that is already in crisis could worsen care services by the time these reforms to ‘fix’ social care are introduced. Newly eligible people next October could face substantial waits for a care assessment whilst the quality of care for those already provided for could worsen as councils struggle with the extra demand amidst rising costs.”

Council leaders say that by delaying the introduction of the means-test and cap on care to October 2024, alongside new duties to arrange care for all self-funders to April 2025, this would provide local authorities adequate time to prepare, particularly to recruit the necessary workforce and undertake a fundamental review of their operations and digital infrastructure to manage increased assessments at a time of severe backlogs and workforce shortages.

At the same time, it would allow councils to focus on their Fair Cost of Care exercises with care providers and the stated policy of ‘moving towards’ paying higher rates for services over the next two years.

But CCN says the delay must be backed by additional funding from government. This is to address the immediate pressures within the system now, such as inflationary costs, improving the quality and availability of care packages and the recruitment and retention of care workers, alongside fully funding provider fee increases as a result of Fair Cost of Care exercises.

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