The debate over the state of the social care sector was reignited last week, after figures were released showing that over 150 allegations of abuse against the elderly are made every day in the UK. A Freedom of Information request to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) revealed 30,000 allegations of abuse in social care services in the first six months of this year. These startling figures have been interpreted by many as evidence of a serious decline in the quality of care in this country.
Whilst such figures are an important warning, we must be careful about how we interpret them. In response to the publication, a Department of Health spokesperson said: "Treating someone with dignity and compassion doesn't cost anything. We're making sure we recruit people with the right values and skills by introducing a 'fit and proper person' test for directors and a care certificate for frontline staff".
This focus upon the individual care-giver, whilst understandable, is an oversimplification of the problem at hand. For example, a care worker's ability to provide care with both dignity and compassion becomes severely restricted when delivered in a rushed 15-minute window. Truly high quality care requires time - something which is chronically lacking in the social care sector, through no fault of the individual, hard-working care workers.
Speaking in response to the figures, chief inspector for social care Andrea Sutcliffe this week warned that the sector is under "stress and strain", owing to the vast reductions in funding. Ms. Sutcliffe rightly placed individual care workers into the wider context of the system, stating: "It also may mean that they end up being the sort of care worker that you wouldn't want them to be because the system around them isn't supportive". Indeed, Ms. Sutcliffe highlighted the numerous contributing factors, including the increased numbers of people who need care and support and the increased complexity of people's needs.
Importantly, Ms. Sutcliffe placed the issue of funding front and centre, highlighting the importance of commissioners and funders. "There is an important responsibility in the role of those funding care - local authorities or clinical commissioning groups - to really understand what the true cost of care is, what true quality looks like," she said. It has perhaps become a truism, but is one that bears repeating: the single greatest problem in the social care sector is that of funding. With a predicted funding gap of at least £4.3bn by 2020, new solutions are desperately needed.
This situation has arguably been compounded by the Chancellor's announcement in July of the introduction of a National Living Wage. While care providers have been calling for a living wage for some time in order to combat the low-pay scandal in the care sector, the introduction of a Living Wage will require significant public investment to be in any way viable. Analysis by the Resolution Foundation shows that care-providers will face a bill of £1.3bn of 2020 to provide the Living Wage, on top of the £1bn that was already needed to pay for minimum wage increases.
This week's debate over the declining quality of care is yet another manifestation of the desperate state of funding in the social care sector. Ms. Sutcliffe's comments, alongside the CQC figures, serve to highlight the fact that the government must urgently provide answers on how social care will be funded, if we have any hope of providing long-term, high quality care to the increasing number of individuals who need it.