Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Social care crisis having a “devastating” impact on people with learning disabilities

Despite a £7.5bn funding boost for the adult social care sector in 2022, there has been no “tangible change” or “any significant progress towards ‘fixing adult social care’,” according to the Chief Executive of Care England.

This comes following the publication of the annual 2023 Sector Pulse Check report by Hft and Care England, which revealed that care providers are grappling with staff shortages and financial constraints.

The report, which analysed the sector’s stability across 2023, revealed that 84% of adult social care providers said government funding initiatives implemented over the past year have had no impact upon their financial sustainability.

This is having a “devastating” impact on those who draw on care and support, such as people with learning disabilities, according to Hft’s CEO Steve Veevers.

“What we’ve started to see is providers making some really difficult decisions about reducing their capacity or exiting the market entirely,” Mr Veevers told LDT. “People should have agency and advocacy of their own care, but this is going to directly reduce the amount of choice people have about where they want to live and who they want to live with, and how they have their care and support funded; and that is devastating.”

“I have two family members who both have a learning disability. When we were looking at care settings eight or nine years ago we really struggled to find somewhere that met our expectations of his care and support. I would hate to think what we would see today; the availability of good quality care has really diminished.”

152,000 unfilled social care posts

Indeed, the report found that in 2023, two in five (40%) providers reported a deficit, with 43% forced to close a part of their organisation or hand back contracts.

Roughly one in five (18%) of care providers offered care to fewer people, and a similar number (19%) made staff redundancies. Four in 10 (39%) considered exiting the market altogether.

Eight in 10 (81%) care providers said the most significant cost pressure continues to be the workforce. This has been fuelled by the annual increase in the National Living Wage, with 79% of providers reporting that local authority fee increases did not cover the impact of this in 2023.

While there has been a slight improvement in staffing levels with a 7% decrease in vacancies, there are still 152,000 unfilled social care posts, and nearly half (44%) of organisations had to turn down new admissions due to a lack of staff.

More than three quarters (86%) of care providers said staff pay was a key barrier to recruitment and retention, while 63% cited poor perceptions of a career in adult social care. The recent tightening of immigration rules for overseas care staff are likely to only exacerbate staff shortages.

The impact on people with learning disabilities

Mr Veevers told LDT that there is a risk that a lack of care options could see a rise in admissions to long-stay mental health hospitals.

“I was fortunate enough to spend some time with families of people supported a few weeks ago, and I was talking to a family member of someone who had done a move fairly recently. Three weeks later, he was distressed, unhappy and self-harming; I think this is the reality for people with a learning disability right now. And from that, there will be people who, because of their mental health, will end up going to long-stay mental health hospitals. This is the worst thing we can think of as a sector.

“I spent the early part of my career helping people come out of long stay hospitals. It would be devastating for us to return back to this.”

Care sector in a ‘fragile state’

Hft and Care England are now calling on the next government to implement a variety of measures to support the care sector. This includes improving commissioning practice, revising VAT arrangements and removing barriers to ethical international recruitment.

“Whichever flavour of government that we get coming in, we really have to ask, how do we fund social care properly for the long term? It has to be on a sustainable footing, and that’s not going to be an overnight change; the amount of funding we’re talking about goes into the billions.

“We want to see the next government commit to working with the sector and the people who draw on care and support, and really think about the long term. We are in such a fragile state, we need immediate help with some short-term recommendations which can help us to carry us over while we wait for a commitment to long term-change,” said Mr Veevers.

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