Carers for elderly could make more money stacking shelves

It is now “virtually impossible” to recruit carers for elderly and disabled people in large parts of the country because workers know they can get better pay stacking shelves, council care chiefs have warned.

In a bleak assessment of the state of the care system in England, adult social services bosses said the cumulative effects of budget cuts and cost savings over recent years is now threatening to drive the private care agencies and care homes councils rely on out of business.

Although councils say they have attempted to shield private providers from the full force of the savings they have had to make, they warned they are reaching “the end of the road”.

The warning came in an authoritative annual study from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) on councils’ care budgets. While NHS spending has been protected since the onset of austerity measures in 2010, social care is the responsibility of local councils, which have seen their budgets slashed by 40 per cent in that time.

Councils say they have tried to shield social care, prioritising cuts in other areas such as parks or leisure centres, while asking adult social services departments to save money in other ways where possible such as finding cheaper suppliers or limiting access to care rather than simply cutting care.

Nevertheless, Adass calculates that the combination of cost savings and the effects of the rapidly ageing population have effectively wiped out 31 per cent of care budgets in five years.

The study, based on a confidential survey of adult social care directors, found that this financial year alone they are making collective savings of £1.1 billion or eight per cent. That is almost 30 per cent higher than savings they made last year.

The survey found that 45 per cent of adult social services directors still believe that they have been able to minimise the effects of spending cuts on care services but that only seven per cent thought they would still be able to do so in the next few years.

Some companies have signalled they will pull out of running care homes or offering publicly funded places because council rates, which have been frozen, no longer enable them to run a viable business.

And care chiefs said the crisis is now compounded by a shortage of staff willing to work for pay at or close to the minimum wage, the rate agencies say is all they can afford.

The problem is said to have become acute across southern England in areas with low unemployment.

In some cases care agencies have reported an exodus of staff every time local supermarkets put up their pay rates.

“As the economy picks up they are finding it harder and harder to recruit,”said Simon Williams, of Merton Council in London, who is Adass lead for dementia.

“There are parts of England now where there are people saying it is virtually impossible to recruit carers any longer.”

John Jackson, chair of Adass’s resource committee said that his area, Oxfordshire, is one example.

“There is very, very little unemployment in Oxfordshire and generally if people have a choice if the local supermarket puts their rates of pay up you will see people leaving the adult social care sector.”

Ray James, president of Adass, said: “We think this is a moment in time where we are duty bound to sound a fairly imminent warning about the need for Government to act in the coming budget and spending review if we are

going to ensure that many vulnerable older and disabled people who need care and support services will have the care and support service that they need.

“Evidence shows that the cuts are deepening. We think the markets are becoming increasingly fragile with, counterproductively, spending on prevention being squeezed.

“There is an inextricable link between spending for the NHS and for social care and we think that the warning signs are there and government needs to act in the budget and the spending review that are coming up.”