A leading representative for adult social care providers has launched a ‘roadmap’ for sustainability in the sector, setting out a series of policy recommendations for the next government.
Care England’s Care for Our Future report highlights the sector’s priorities across three key themes – workforce, funding and integration – and makes policy recommendations for the next government to implement within 100 days, two years and five years of entering office.
The plan, which is backed by major representative groups across the sector, calls for the next government to mandate the professional registration of adult social care staff in England within 100 days of entering office.
‘As a result of a lack of government investment, care professionals are underpaid, undervalued and lack the professional status and proper career structure afforded to comparable roles in the NHS,’ which ‘contributes to the discourse that care professionals do not enjoy parity of esteem with NHS colleagues’, Care England said.
Mandating the professional registration of adult social care staff in England, as is already in place in Scotland and Wales, would ‘help raise the status of working in care, laying the foundations for professionalising the workforce and offering a framework for recognising an individual’s experience and training’, it said.
Registration costs should be met by the government, rather than care staff, Care England insisted, adding that ‘a professional register would represent a low-cost, easily implementable measure that lays the foundation for a sustainable adult social care workforce’.
A professional register would allow ‘a safer and faster recruitment process’, with those registered having their references and DBS checks already validated, Care England highlighted.
And it added that, with an up-to-date training record, the register would minimise the need to complete mandatory training when changing roles or employers, resulting in reduced training costs, and freeing up time and resources to focus on delivering care.
Within two years of entering office, Care England wants the next government to implement a fully funded £15 minimum care wage and develop parity of esteem with NHS staff.
Pay rates within adult social care roles remain ‘the principal barrier’ to the recruitment and retention of staff, with ‘care staff among the lowest-paid workers in the economy’, the representative body said.
‘The adult social care workforce is in a severe and sustained crisis,’ it warned, with 152,000 vacancies in the sector, a vacancy rate (9.9%) three times greater than the average for other sectors, and a turnover rate of 30%.
‘The primary factors causing the ongoing recruitment and retention crisis – low pay, a lack of career progression and inconsistency in terms and conditions compared to NHS roles – remain largely unaddressed,’ Care England said.
It has called a sector-wide pay rise for care staff in England ‘long overdue’, with both Scotland and Wales having already introduced ‘modest minimum care wages’.
It said that ‘given the extent of workforce pressures, England must follow suit in a substantial way’.
Within five years of entering office, Care England is calling on the next government to consolidate reforms within a fully funded, long-term adult social care workforce plan.
‘This must set out how the sector will address existing vacancies and meet future challenges, with clear, measurable targets over a 15-year period,’ Care England said, as well as ‘develop prospects for clear career progression’, and include ‘a structured set of pay bands commensurate with the skills and competencies required in different roles’.
At present, there is no workforce strategy to deal with the staff shortages currently ‘engulfing’ the adult social care sector, the representative body said.
The plan ‘must include a focus on learning, development and qualifications’, and a long-term workforce strategy that ‘strikes the right balance between domestic and international recruitment as a means of meeting the sector’s staffing needs’, it said.
Meanwhile, Care England’s plan also called on the next government to introduce zero-rate VAT for welfare services in England, and mandate direct adult social care representation at all integrated care system levels in England, within 100 days of entering office.
In addition, it urged the next government to deliver a long-term adult social care funding settlement, with a £10bn annual funding boost, and deliver a fully-mapped prevention and integration plan within five years of entering office.
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said: ‘Adult social care affects all of us.
‘From the vital care and support delivered to our loved ones to the £51.5bn contributed to the English economy every year, all our futures depend on a well-resourced and resilient sector.’
He continued: ‘This roadmap harnesses the sector’s talent and enthusiasm to provide a blueprint for the next government to move us towards the sustainable future our sector and society so desperately needs.’
Professor Green has called the recommendations ‘pragmatic, realistic’ and able to ‘deliver meaningful impact’.
He said: ‘It is incumbent upon the incoming government, whatever their political persuasion, to put the future of adult social care at the heart of its vision for the country, and this roadmap represents the foundations on which to do so.’
Care England’s roadmap ‘accounts for the challenging economic situation likely to be inherited by the next government, prioritising measures that would stabilise the sector in the immediate term and transform care over the next five years’ Professor Green added.
He insisted that, ‘to make real progress, we need real change’.
‘This is something organisations from across the health and social care system are actively calling for,’ he added.
‘By giving the sector the resources and confidence it needs, the next government can play a decisive role in delivering an adult social care sector that is fit for our future, and that the nation can be proud of.’
Earlier this month, Care England called on the government to ‘immediately unlock essential funds’ for all local authorities, to ensure the sector’s services are uninterrupted, after Birmingham City Council ‘declared itself effectively bankrupt’.
Meanwhile, a new report published this week suggests the social care system has the potential to deliver a huge return on investment if the government provides urgently needed funding to prevent further fragmentation of the sector.
Earlier this year, leading figures in the Church of England launched a call to ‘fix our broken social care system’, with proposals for a ‘national care covenant’ and a redesign of the adult social care sector.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are fully committed to our 10-year vision to reform adult social care.
‘Our Next Steps to put People at the Heart of Care plan sets out how we are spending £700 million over two years, including £250 million for the workforce to develop their skills and careers, on top of our £7.5 billion investment to help reduce adult social care waiting times and increase capacity.
‘Most care workers are employed by private sector providers who set their pay however, we have raised the national living wage by 9.7% to £10.42 an hour for workers aged 23 and over.’