A report released this week - ahead of the Budget - by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), warned that care homes and home care agencies could be driven out of business because councils can no longer afford to pay them enough to operate.
David Pearson, president of ADASS, said that 'more and more older and disabled people might be unable to receive the preventative, joined up services they need, and some will receive no support at all.'
As someone who has worked in the care sector for over 17 years, the report's findings were all too familiar. People are living longer, yet our current infrastructure is unable to cope, and so many people are suffering as a result. How is it fair that these vulnerable people - who have worked hard all their lives - are being asked to pay over the odds for their care?
The Government is being urged to cover the £4.3bn gap in social care funding by 2020, alongside the estimated £8bn gap in health service funding over the same period. Historically, politicians have prioritised the NHS, and have consistently failed to properly provide for social care.
Although councils have tried to protect this area from cuts demanded by austerity measures, ADASS highlighted that budgets have still been slashed by 12% since 2010, while demand for services from growing numbers of elderly and disabled people has risen by 14%.
The combined pressures of insufficient funding, growing demand, and mounting costs mean that regardless of councils' efforts, they still have to make hard-hitting decisions about the care services they can provide. As a result, many care homes have to pass on the impact of this to individuals, either by asking families to 'top-up' the cost of their loved one's care home places - or by charging fee-paying residents ('self-funders') more for the same level of care, to subsidise local authority funded placements.
What is the solution?
Integrating the delivery of health and social care is vital and will help to overcome the substantial spending challenges faced by both the NHS and local authorities, by approaching the challenge in a joined-up way.
However, this integration has to be driven from the bottom up in order to work.
There is an increasing need for budget decisions to be decentralised. Initial progress has already been made with the Greater Manchester region being granted full control of health spending in April 2016, but doing this more widely will allow local authorities to identify local needs, risks and opportunities. The allocation of funding to councils regionally should hopefully play a part in making the sharing of budgets easier.
Freedom and autonomy has the power to bring with it substantial benefits. Authorities with devolved control of health and social care budgets will be better able to establish strong outcome-based contracting plans and iron out any inconsistencies.
As David Pearson rightly said: "Adult social care is at a crossroads. As a country we need to be ambitious for care and recognise that protecting the NHS means protecting adult social care too."
Care home and home care workers do such a valuable and important job and will often be the sole source of companionship and support for the older and disabled people they care for. The pressure on staff is also huge. We need the next Government - whatever flavour it may be - to step up, so that local authorities can be empowered to take on such responsibilities, and support providers appropriately.
Both professionally and personally, I have the privilege of speaking to people in the care sector every day, who work tirelessly for the people they support. High quality care is not something that can be delivered 'on the cheap'. The short-changing of care providers must come to an end. It is essential that the funding given to care providers by local authorities reflects the true cost of delivering the outstanding care that residents deserve.