Social care: further delays for a sector in crisis

people with learning disabilities watching an ipad

Chris Reynolds, Chair of the  IFoA Health & Care Board discusses the recent UK Government white paper on health and social care reform.

Last month the UK Government launched its blueprint for NHS and social care reform . Measures set out in the white paper Integration and innovation: working together to improve health and social care for all aim to promote integration between different parts of the health and care system and put the focus of health funding on the health of the entire population, not just on the health of the patients.

The measures also aim to support the sector in using technology in a modern way. This includes improving the quality and availability of data across the sector to enable systems to plan the future care of their communities so that technology will provide a better platform for supporting staff and patient care. The proposals are a step in the right direction which we believe have the potential to provide the quick wins identified in terms of improved outcomes and saving costs. However, the proposals are unlikely to be sufficient to address the challenges faced by a sector in crisis.

The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) has long been calling for social care reform to address the challenges faced by the sector. These pressures are largely driven by the UK’s changing demographics. The population is growing, individuals are living longer and there is a growing proportion of older people. It is increasingly likely that more and more people will require long-term care later in life. Due to the complexities of the current system, many individuals are unaware or find it difficult to understand the potential costs they will be expected to meet to pay for this care. The current means test threshold for care can also act as a disincentive to save. As a result many individuals do not save a sufficient amount to cover their later in life care needs.

The onset of COVID-19 has placed further economic strain on an already struggling care sector. Although the Government has made short-term funding available to offset some of the additional costs, many care providers remain under financial pressure. Falling occupancy levels in care homes from excess deaths, practical restrictions on new admissions and reduced demand for residential care have all created additional pressure. COVID-19 has also triggered a reduction in available care services, increased care costs and closures of day care centres. More people are now providing unpaid care for their family members, friends and neighbours. Figures released during Carers Week in June 2020 revealed that the pandemic resulted in an additional 4.5 million people starting to provide care for older or disabled people or those with physical or mental illness. Among these unpaid carers, 2.8 million have taken on care responsibilities whilst juggling paid work.

Despite the pandemic shining a spotlight on the extent of the crisis, the government has delayed delivery of its proposals for social care reform until later this year. This delay, the latest of many over the years, places continued strain on the Treasury’s purse strings and leaves those who need to pay for care at risk. We strongly urge the government to take action now and set out a clear strategy for tackling social care in both the short and the long term.

Over recent years, IFoA members have produced a number of research reports on the sustainability of adult social care funding; in particular, analysing the costs for self-funders and the balance between state and personal funding. The Health and Care Board is committed to leveraging actuarial expertise to inform the government’s proposed solution to the social care funding crises. It is currently establishing a Social Care Working Party which will deliver further analysis on funding solutions, as the government looks for ways to meet the evolving needs, demands and expectations of the health and care system.