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Broken Promises on Fixing Social Care Laid Bare

‘Years of fragmented funding and the absence of a clear roadmap has brought the adult social care sector to its knees’ according to the chair of the Public Accounts Committee

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak. Photo: Leon Neal/Reuters/Alamy

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Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak‘s promises to fix the social care crisis have fallen short – with billions of pounds diverted elsewhere, according to a new parliamentary report.

The House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee has found that chronic understaffing, long waiting lists, and a patchwork of funding to hard-pressed local councils have all contributed to the failure to honour the pledge Johnson made to tackle the crisis in social care.

In 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care allocated £5.4 billion on top of its annual spending for three years to improve social care.

But last April, the Government slashed the funding to £729 million for the years 2023 and 2024, with no agreed provision for 2025. The cuts included halving the £500 million budget for workforce training, and the scrapping of £300 million in investment to link housing to healthcare strategy.

Labour MP Dame Meg Hillier, the committee’s chair, said: “Years of fragmented funding and the absence of a clear roadmap has brought the adult social care sector to its knees. Waiting lists are rising, the sector is short tens of thousands of essential staff, and local authority finances are being placed under an unsustainable amount of pressure.

“The decision to dedicate a single chapter in the adult social care reform white paper to the social care workforce does not do justice to the level of work that will be required and feels to us like a bit of a cop-out.

“While an NHS-style workforce strategy for social care may not be feasible, the Department of Health and Social Care must set out how it will how it provide leadership across the sector to identify and address workforce challenges.”


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 The report states that workforce vacancies in the sector, which employs around 1.6 million people, exceeded 152,000 in March 2023 – a vacancy rate of almost 10%.

The committee fears that the workforce plan set out to address the shortfall is “woefully insufficient to the scale of the task”.

“The Department of Health and Social Care’s future reliance on overseas staff raises significant questions of the impact of proposed visa restrictions and risks of exploitation,” it states. “The demand for adult social care services in rural areas is of particular concern to the PAC, as it is set to rise against a backdrop of chronic understaffing in these communities.”

The Government has recently allocated another £500 million to bail-out council spending on adult and children’s social care, but MPs feel that this short-term funding to patch up services is no substitute for sustainable, longer-term investment.

In 2022-23, local authorities supported more than one million people with care needs, at a cost of £23.7 billion. As at Autumn 2023, there were almost half a million people waiting for their case to be looked at. In 2022, £2.7 billion in additional funding was allocated in response to emerging pressures.

In evidence to the committee, one local authority, Rochdale demonstrated the significant pressures councils are under to provide adult social care at grassroots level.

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Rochdale reported large increases in demand since 2021. Examples included a 23% increase in the number of calls to its adult social care team (up from 36,643 – 45,249 per year); a 77% increase in requests for support from new clients signposted to other services (up from 2,099 to 3,271 per year.); a 107% increase in number of major adaptations to homes; and a 22% increase in people accessing long-term support for more than 12 months.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to reforming adult social care and have invested up to an additional £8.6 billion over two years to meet the pressures facing the sector, grow the workforce and improve hospital discharge.

“The report rightly acknowledges progress to boost care workers’ career progression and training to improve retention, including through a new accredited qualification.

“To drive forward our vision for reform, we are also investing up to £700 million on a major transformation of the adult social care system, which includes investing in technology and adapting people’s homes to allow them to live independently.”

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