A social care leader is warning that a number of care homes in Wales will close unless an extra £250 million in funding is used to fix the “broken” system and tackle low pay in the sector.
Mr Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, was speaking after the announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson that he is raising national insurance by 1.25 per cent to end the “catastrophic costs” of social care.
The hike will also help fund a major drive in England to clear the massive backlog in operations and treatment caused by Covid-19.
As national insurance is a UK-wide tax, it’s estimated that Wales will receive between £250 million and £300 million in additional funding. It will be up to the Welsh Government how they spend it.According to Mr Kreft, it is a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to fix the “broken” social care system in Wales.
First Minister Mark Drakeford had admitted before the pandemic that the sector was fragile and the finances had become even more precarious since the pandemic struck.
Among the main threats to care homes and domiciliary care companies were decades of chronic underfunding and a dire shortage of staff. Pay levels were dictated by the formulas used by local authorities and health boards to calculate the fees they paid to social care providers.
Mr Kreft said:
Coming up with a way to properly fund social care has been the challenge of our age.
“The quest for an effective and integrated health and social care system has been going on for 30 years.
“What we have now is an opportunity to sort out social care which is incredibly important for so many reasons, including the fact that it underpins the NHS. Obviously, there will be additional money coming to Wales, presumably through the Barnett formula, but there is no reason for us to do the things that we have always done.
“What we’ve seen in the pandemic is the Welsh Government taking a leadership role and looking at a much more centralised approach. As a result the funding and the support for social care during the pandemic has decided more centrally rather than through the 22 local authorities. That is a very good example of how we could do things more effectively in future.
“At the moment, the sector is blighted by a postcode lottery of different fees paid by different councils and health boards. What we need is a level playing field with a national approach which is what the Welsh Government achieved with their Covid support for social care.
“Fundamentally, we have an issue with the recruitment and retention of social care staff and this is something that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
“As well has hanging on to our existing workforce, we need to be able to attract a new generation of social care workers. We have to change perceptions so that it is rightly seen as a profession to be proud of.
“It wasn’t that many months ago that we were clapping our social care workers. Today they are leaving the sector in droves so we have got to do something to stem that tide.
“In relation to funding, we need to look at social care as a value to society not a cost. It is something that enhances communities across Wales and provides succour and support for the most vulnerable people in our society.
“Social care is also a fundamental part of the foundation economy here in Wales so we can be clever about this and ensure we have a system that works well for our communities and can at the same time help the NHS function.
“We’re seeing real issues in our hospitals with people being unable to be discharged back to their own homes. One of the major problems is that we do not have the capacity in terms of the numbers of social care workers that we need.
“I welcome this funding because we have had 30 years of shirking this very important issue – now is the time to settle down and get the job done.
“The problems with pay in the sector in Wales are caused by those who commission social care, the local authorities and the health boards.
“The responsibility rests squarely with them because each of the commissioned places is given a number of allotted hours. In North Wales, for example, the toolkit they use assumes half the hours are paid at the legal minimum wages.and half of those hours are paid at the National Living Wage.
“The system is broken and it needs to change. Care Forum Wales will be trying to make this work with an effective, integrated health and social care system.
“Last year Care Forum Wales launched our 2020 campaign to ensure that people working in social care were paid at least £20,000 a year. This is a golden opportunity to make sure this happens.
“We need to ensure that working in social care is a profession to be proud of and to do that we need to be able to pay staff what they deserve and the providers are able to be viable. I that doesn’t happen the sector will come crashing down like a house of cards and providers across Wales will be forced to close their doors.”