Work Foundation - What do the Government’s social care funding reforms mean for care workers?

8 Sep 2021 04:51 PM

Reforming social care funding has been a long-standing political challenge that successive Governments have failed to meet.

That this Government set out its plans to address the challenge is therefore a welcome step. A new ‘health and social care levy’ will be introduced to raise additional funding for the NHS and social care by increasing national insurance contributions by 1.25% from April 2022. However, revenue raised through this tax rise will initially be used primarily to fund NHS backlogs exacerbated by the pandemic – with only a portion of resources reaching the social care sector over the next three years.

Breaking a manifesto pledge not to raise national insurance will undoubtedly give rise to rancour among his own backbench MPs - but the Prime Minister will be banking on good will among the electorate, for long-overdue funding reforms to the social care sector.

While much needed additional funding for the social care sector is welcome, it will not in of itself solve the social care crisis. The social care system has been operating throughout conditions of growing strain over the past decade, with demand for social care increasing, local authority care costs on the rise and the cost of commissioning also growing. As outlined through our recent research with Totaljobs, care workers are at the sharp end of this pressurised financial context, with pay remaining stubbornly low, leading to high staff turnover. A third of the care workers we surveyed were looking for a new job, with the main drivers being: pay (52%), not feeling valued (45%) and a lack of career progression opportunities (31%). Establishing a route for funding social care will not fundamentally address challenges in care provision if the sector’s workforce continues to face a range of poor terms and conditions.

Encouragingly, the Government’s new reform package does include £500 million of investment in the social care workforce. It is positive to see this includes a commitment to fund resources occupational health provision to support care workers’ mental health and wellbeing. This support will be vital for many workers affected by bereavement and the pressures of the pandemic. Our research found that care workers’ mental health has deteriorated throughout the pandemic, with 48% of workers surveyed reporting that they had experienced good or very good mental health over the two weeks before completing the survey, in comparison with 60% in early 2020.

Government also plans to allocate some of this funding to workforce development, including the provision of ‘thousands of training places’ and certifications for care workers. A continuous professional development framework, with funding for training built in to the commissioning process was one of the recommendations set out in our report: Social care: a guide to attracting and retaining a thriving workforce.

At this early stage, it is not apparent that this workforce investment will result in changes to terms and conditions for care workers. But there is a clear case for improving job quality in social care. Ensuring that care workers have secure work, with higher pay, and predictable hours, will help to stabilise the workforce and promote high quality care – improved retention reduces the disruption that staff turnover causes in relationships between individuals using a service and care workers, and will be essential for offering person-centred care and support.

With the perennial question about care funding at least partially addressed over the short term, the focus must shift to improving care provision and tackling longstanding workforce challenges. The White Paper should set out an ambitious long-term strategy for workforce development in social care to support the workforce to grow sustainably in line with demand. Action on pay, job security and progression must be part of this broad plan for workforce development in the sector, to deliver the meaningful reforms needed to secure a thriving social care workforce.