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Will the public care about care this election?

By freelance writer Eleanore Robinson
With a general election to come this year, public sentiment about social care will be a clear issue for election candidates.

Recent reports have raised important questions about the way the sector is funded, but with even more recent increases in council tax fresh in the public minds, how willing are the public to support a message that the sector needs even more funding?

Among those critical of social care funding was the Reforming Adult Social Care in England report, which called for more assurances that funding for social care market sustainability and improvement would not end up in providers’ pockets without making an impact on care services.

Criticising the DHSC’s data collection and transparency, the report states: “We are concerned that the Department’s grasp of what it is getting for the £1.6 billion funding to support hospital discharge, is … vague.”

In addition, Skills for Care’s Pay in the adult social care sector report highlighted that at the end of 2023, two in five independent sector care workers were paid below the Real Living Wage, with a median average rate of £11 per hour.

This followed a British Social Attitudes survey which found that 57 per cent of respondents were dissatisfied with social care services due to inadequate pay, working conditions and training for social care workers.

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For the Care Workers’ Charity, which financially supports care workers, the reports are a welcome endorsement of the much-stated need to improve pay and conditions for care workers. In its election effort, the CWC intends to publish a manifesto to highlight the plight of care workers and the causes and impact of poor pay and conditions.

However, Liz Jones, policy director at the National Care Forum, feels it is a “false premise” to say that higher wages were simply within the gift of employers and she has laid some blame at the feet of local authorities which commission services but which are not able to meet the real costs of care. This has an impact on the prices charged to those who fund their own care as well as providers’ ability to maintain the scale/quality of their services, she believes. “The concept of a ‘sustainable care market’ is simply not a reality when we haven’t got enough money coming into the system”, she said.

Council tax rises due to the social care precept do little to warm public sentiment towards further investment in social care and NCF senior policy and external affairs lead Nathan Jones, believes it will be a battle will be to overcome the ingrained view that care home owners make massive profits from the care of older people. He said: “Politicians share that perception as well.”

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The NCF sees the election as an opportunity to stress the importance of long-term funding for social care and it has prepared a pack for its members to use when speaking to prospective candidates and councillors.

NCF Policy Director Liz Jones said: “We know once the election gets announced, the candidates will be interested in talking to social care providers and be interested in getting their vote and the vote of the people they support. We know there is an opportunity there.”

For Care England a key message will be that the value of social care to local communities and economies cannot be understated. Chief executive Professor Martin Green explains: “Underfunding of care by the Government is a major impediment to the development of new services and the sustainability of current ones.

“We intend to go into the media so that the messages we are delivering about the importance of care to local people and local economies will be heard by the general public as well as by critical decision makers.”

However, CEO Karolina Gerlich is realistic about the challenge this message faces. She said: “Politicians are forever scared of tackling social care around the election: they see social care as a vote loser rather than a winner because as often it comes with a message of ‘it needs more money! And, where is the money going to come from?’”

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