Within the next decade - by 2025 - there will be 11.7 million disabled people in England, according to government figures.
This group of people, representing more than 20% of our population, is also ageing, which means that more older people will need disability-specific support. Our growing and ageing disabled population will require help with their mental health, physical disability or learning disability. This kind of unprecedented demand, according to national workforce body Skills for Care, means that we will need an additional 220,000 to 470,000 workers due to population growth and ageing by 2025.
VODG, the national body representing leading not-for-profit providers of services and support to disabled people, has just submitted its response to HM Treasury on the Autumn Statement. Our argument for social care funding builds on our previous demands that all political parties must put social care funding, human rights, and the workforce at the heart of their policies.
Action is vital, because just as disabled people's need for support is rising, funding for that support is dwindling. Successive governments have failed to make social care a national priority. Since 2010, for example, cumulative adult social care savings have amounted to £6.3bn, according to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, while planned savings for adult social care in 2017/18 will be a further £824m.
Little wonder then that the social care sector is fast approaching a "tipping point", as the regulator Care Quality Commission has warned.
VODG members - voluntary and not-for-profit organisations - provide essential services to disabled people with an approach that promotes independence, choice and control and also supports people's carers. The voluntary sector provides 19% of adult social care jobs (which suggests that it provides around a fifth of this support to disabled people). But voluntary sector providers are disproportionately affected by adult social care budget cuts because the people they mainly support are publicly-funded.
The issue of how we provide for an ageing population is rightly high on the national agenda, with a focus on challenges such as dementia and loneliness. Yet we need equal attention on support for working age disabled adults, and on services for older disabled people.
It is true that adult social care has won some additional funding, through, for example, the Improved Better Care Fund and the Adult Social Care Precept enabling a 3% rise in council tax to fund social care. This, however, is woefully inadequate given the scale of demand, rising costs and the need to sustain a reliable workforce. The extra funding helps in social care in the short term, but there is nothing to protect such essential support in the future.
In addition, there are other pressures on our already strained sector. The cost of care provision is, for example, increasing. Despite the welcome introduction of the national living wage (NLW), pension auto-enrolment and a levy to support the growth in apprenticeships these are costs that need to be paid for. The retrospective requirement to provide NLW back-pay to sleep-in shift workers for up to six years would ruin many providers as well as negatively impact on many individual disabled people who employ PAs directly through personal budgets.
Social care providers are continuing to stop trading or hand back contracts to local authorities. This undermines the aims of personalisation and choice in social care, which requires a strong supply of innovative, high quality providers. Despite the advocacy duty enshrined in the Care Act 2014, only 2% of people assessed and eligible for care had been assigned an independent advocate in 2015.
In addition, staff turnover is high and increasing in the adult social care sector, at 31% in 2016 up from 25% in 2015. And national figures show that in 2016, were an estimated 84,000 vacancies across the adult social care sector at any given time.
Finally, the decision for Britain to leave the EU has the potential to create much instability, as VODG's campaign highlights. An estimated 90,000 (7%) adult social care jobs in England are filled by EU workers.
The issue of squeezed funding, increasing demand, increasing costs and workforce challenges has wider ramifications. There will be a direct impact on the lives of disabled people as well as a knock-on effect on other public sector services such as the NHS. For example, in June 2017 there were 178,400 hospital days lost due to delayed discharges, an increase from 173,100 in June 2016. The proportion of delays due to social care increased over the year, from 32% up to 38%.
We must have a strong, sustainable solution for social care.
This means the government must drop the retrospective action to recover mistaken underpayment of NLW for sleep-in shifts from some providers. It must work with relevant bodies to develop a long-term plan to develop and grow the social care workforce. It must focus on how to improve the quality of support for people who need it, at a time of huge challenges, not least, for example, leaving the EU. Until such a robust strategy is in place - and VODG is committed to co-operating with any actions along these lines - the future is uncertain for a sector that millions of people rely on for essential support.