Social care leaders have welcomed an announcement that previously promised funding for the sector will be used to boost recruitment and retention of staff in England. However, there was widespread acknowledgement that allocation of the money was not a substitute for reform, with one health think-tank suggesting that the Government might have abandoned its broader ambitions for the future of social care.
The £600 million funding for adult social care comprises a £570 million ring-fenced workforce fund for local authorities to spend in the current financial year and in 2024-25. The remaining £30 million will be allocated to local authorities with the most challenged health systems.
Money to Boost Winter Resilience
Alongside Friday's announcement of the Market Sustainability and Improvement Fund – Workforce Fund, England's care minister, Helen Whately, wrote to colleagues across social care to outline the "key steps" needed to ensure the system was resilient ahead of winter. The letter urged local authorities to "work closely with providers to use the £570 million funding to grow workforce capacity, for example, by investing in improved pay for people who work in care".
The Local Government Association (LGA) said it was pleased that the Department of Health and Social Care had heeded its call for the funding, first promised by the Government in April under the Next steps to put People at the Heart of Care policy paper, to be ring-fenced for frontline services. Cllr David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA's Wellbeing Board, said the money would help, but that "secure long-term funding and a comprehensive plan for reform remain vital."
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England , which represents independent care services, welcomed the announcement as a "step in the right direction" for the sector, but warned that the Government was asking "a great deal from a relatively small pot of funding". The £570 million promised over 2 years "equates to a mere 10p per hour pay rise for the social care workforce", he highlighted.
Mathew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation , warned that "without a long-term workforce plan for social care, vacancy gaps and supporting hospital discharge will be an ongoing issue that will never fully be resolved".
A Crisis in Search of a Fix
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson famously stated back in 2019 that the Conservative Government would "fix the crisis in social care once and for all", but in the Government's spending review the following year, the ambition more modestly pledged "sustainable improvement of the adult social care system". Rishi Sunak promised "a stronger NHS" when he delivered his first speech as Prime Minister in October last year but omitted to mention social care altogether.
Health think-tank the Nuffield Trust called for a "comprehensive programme of reform" for the sector. Camille Oung, a Trust fellow, said conditions had to be set for "a stable, thriving workforce whose terms and conditions attract the growing numbers we need over the coming decades".
The King's Fund assessed that the latest funding announcement "will offer some relief to hard-pressed local authorities", but senior fellow at the health think-tank, Simon Bottery, said it was "not the properly funded workforce plan that social care needs". He added that, "in using money originally earmarked for wider reform to help keep afloat the existing system, the Government is acknowledging the end of its broader ambitions for social care".