The UK’s Adult Social Care sector has for some time been working hard to overcome a growing number of challenges. And most operators have responded positively, adopting innovative practices to maintain standards of care in an increasingly difficult climate. Yet pressures continue to mount, and unlike the UK’s manufacturing and mining industries, moving overseas or closing down is not an option for the social care sector. So all stakeholders must come together to devise a clear and sustainable strategy in the face of these four major challenges.
An aging population
According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of people in the UK aged over 85 is set to double between now and 2040. That’s an additional 1.7 million potentially vulnerable people, and given that Local Authorities have a legal duty to provide care to those who cannot fund it themselves, it seems inevitable that there will be a massive increase in demand for services that are already severely stretched.
Cuts to funding
In stark contrast to the rising demand for adult care services, government funding for social care has been in sharp decline for the past five years. According to a recent Deloitte report, Local Authority funding has been slashed by 31% in real terms since 2011. And while some operators have been able to respond by growing the number of privately funded residents, it is clear that there exists a chronic funding shortage, with no resolution in sight.
Rising staff costs
Wages are by far the largest component of care home costs, and as funding is reduced, rising wages are placing unsustainable pressure on some operators’ business models. Wage increases are being driven by two distinct factors: a shortage of skilled staff is forcing greater reliance on expensive agency staff, plus the new National Living Wage is having a significant impact in what has traditionally been a low-pay sector.
High-profile failings at a number of UK care homes have heightened the media’s focus on standards of care, and it’s likely that this has played a role in the design and implementation of a raft of new regulations. Whilst the tightening of inspection criteria is clearly a positive step, it seems inevitable that this will be accompanied by some additional costs. And given the size of the challenge – 41% of inspections carried out in England in 2015 by the Care Quality Commission were rated either “inadequate” or “requires improvement” – these costs are likely to be significant.
It seems likely that many care home operators will be forced to restructure their operations, yet the human element of this “business” makes social care very different to other sectors, where return on investment is the only focus. So it is essential that Local Authorities, Central Government, public bodies, operators and staff must all co-operate closely if they are to find a way to continue to provide high-quality care with limited resources.
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