News / Government’s care plan prompts mixed response

06 December 2021 Seamus Ward

Login to access this content

news_JeremyHunt_portraitIn September, prime minister Boris Johnson allocated £5.4bn over three years to pay for social care reforms, funded by a new health and social care levy. In the spending review, it was confirmed that £1.7bn of this would be used to pay for major improvements in the adult social care sector.

The government said the white paper, People at the heart of care, offered a 10-year vision to improve adult social care, including greater choice, certainty over costs, and opportunities for care providers. It set out how around £1bn of the £1.7bn will be spent to reform the system over the next three years, with further allocations to be made as the social care reform programme progresses.

The funding includes £500m for staff training and development, and £300m for investment in housing to help local authorities offer greater choice, care and support. For example, a new service will repair or alter homes to help service users remain safe, stay with their family or live independently if they wish.

At least £150m will fund the adoption of technologies and digitisation, including digital social care records. The white paper commits to 80% of social care providers having a digital care record that can connect to a shared care record by March 2024. Implementation support for proven technologies will be funded in each integrated care system.

More than £70m has been set aside to improve delivery of care and support services, helping councils to better plan and develop the options available. Smaller amounts have been allocated to other programmes, such as supporting carers (£25m) and innovation (£30m).

Integrated care partnerships (ICPs) will have a key role in the ‘necessary integration of housing within health and care’, and further details of how ICPs and integrated care boards will support the delivery of joined-up care will be set out in the upcoming integration white paper.

Commons Health and Care Committee chair Jeremy Hunt (pictured) said that the government deserved credit for ‘grasping the nettle’ of social care reform, but it had failed to recognise the scale of additional resources needed.

He said: ‘Failures in social care will continue to put pressure on our overstretched hospitals with patients who cannot be safely discharged, exacerbating the winter crisis, and thousands of people will not get the care they need because the carers do not exist.’

Nuffield Trust deputy policy director Natasha Curry asked if funding would be overstretched. ‘The money allocated must fund the cap on costs and higher means-testing, as well as make care fees fairer and support care providers at risk of collapse. Beyond the initial three years of the levy, it also heavily banks on the actions of future governments and assumptions that funding can be diverted from the NHS to social care.’

The white paper said the £500m training and qualifications fund would give staff opportunities to progress their careers, while some of the funding would go towards supporting the mental health of the adult social care workforce.

Mr Hunt said although the paper had taken into account the need to recruit and retain staff, it had not gone far enough. ‘Social care needs its own people plan, and a detailed 10-year strategy setting how these ambitions will be achieved.’

Despite the workforce difficulties faced by the social care sector, Ms Curry said there were no proposals on addressing low pay. ‘The white paper cannot be another missed opportunity to address social care properly and provide real improvements for staff, carers and people who need support now and in the future,’ she said.

However, Oonagh Smyth, chief executive of workforce development charity Skills for Care, said: ‘Much of the workforce elements in the white paper are measures we and others have been asking for. The commitment to invest in professional development, and in our key leaders like registered managers, is something we have been talking about for some time.’