Three quarters of learning disability care providers turned away new admissions to services in 2021, while more than a third closed their services completely, according to Hft’s latest Sector Pulse check report.

The charity says a combination or workforce pressures and financial strain have exacerbated challenges for care providers, which were already struggling before the pandemic.

One of the most significant challenges facing the learning disability care sector is a lack of staff, with the report revealing that at any one time, 16% of workforce positions were vacant.

Recruitment and retention challenges have intensified significantly over the past year, with almost all providers reporting an increase in vacancy rates and one in five new starters leaving their job within the first year of work.

Eight in 10 providers said government funding will not cover increase in staff wages

While the increase in National Living Wage will see staff paid more for their work, Kirsty Matthews, CEO of Hft said: “It is concerning to note that 80% of providers do not believe that the money they are paid by local authorities to deliver care will cover this cost, meaning they will have to foot the bill themselves.”

Indeed, one in 10 providers will need to cover 20% of their wage bill from their own reserves, rather than through fees paid by local authorities to deliver the right standard of care to those they support, according to the research.

On average, each provider surveyed will need to find £640,000 to cover the cost of wages, stretching the already finite resources of providers further.

This is at a time when the sector is in an increasingly precarious financial position, with 71% of providers reporting they are either in deficit, with costs exceeding funding, or that their surplus has decreased.

While the rising cost of wages was found to be a key cost pressure for nearly all providers, the number of providers said who cite the soaring cost of utility bills as a main cost pressure has more than doubled in the past year.

Government must do more to alleviate the recruitment and retention crisis in social care

Hft is now calling on the government to draw down additional funds from the Health and Social Care levy to cover escalating costs and to provide greater clarity around how local authorities will pay fees which cover the real-term cost of living. The charity would also like to see the government do more to encourage people to work in the social care sector.

To do this, care providers say workers must be paid a fair wage and given clearer routes of progression. They would also like to see the implementation of a national register for social workers as well as national standards for training.

More than 20 CEOs of learning disability care providers have supported this call, and have written a joint letter asking the Chancellor to urgently redirect additional funds from the Health and Social Care Levy into social care from year one.

In the letter, they write: "While the government has pledged additional funding for social care through the Health and Care Levy, it does not address immediate financial and workforce challenges. With further cost saving measures such as service closures a likely outcome, this ultimately impacts those who rely on the vital support the sector provides."

"It is vital that the social care sector is placed on a financial footing to ensure it can respond to adults with a learning disability who need support. Not only will this ensure better outcomes for individuals who rely on social care, but is integral to the government’s broader reform and integration agenda. Only when social care is thriving will pressure on, and unnecessary admissions into NHS hospital settings be relieved," they conclude.