Garry Hutton, Managing Director of LOVE Learning, highlights the challenges facing the care sector.
How much more can the social care sector take? How many more people won’t be able to access care services?
The impact of Covid-19, difficulties in attracting staff, contract prices, and Brexit, had our social care services on their knees last year. The reality is that with no career pathway and the responsibility of strict compliance and administering medication or personal care, more money and benefits can be gained by working in a supermarket than in social care.
These difficulties have led to unprecedented demand and increased backlogs, with services struggling to keep pace. The cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated this situation, with more and more families accessing food banks and falling into debt. Care provision is in crisis and facing challenges like never before.
It is difficult for providers to manage the delivery of safe and meaningful services when they are stripped of resources. How do organisations deliver services when faced with the rising cost of energy for example?
Within the social care sector, we rely on workers using their own cars to deliver services and support in our communities to families. Low-salaried care staff are already receiving minimum payments for fuel and travel expenses. The cost-of-living crisis is impacting them in a major manner and this is further reinforcing the fact that the care sector is not seen as an attractive career package for those on such low salaries.
With no margins in the contracts from local authorities for service providers, it is difficult to remunerate staff for expenses and this situation will see contracts unfulfilled.
Some local authorities have extended their contracts for a further two years so that they do not have to have a pay review. Their costs have increased and like any business they are struggling with budgets.
Within the private sector, providers are expected to meet these additional costs as framework agreements do not allow for cost of living or fuel charge increases to be addressed once the contract has been signed. The cost of delivering these services has skyrocketed within a pricing structure that is deemed insufficient, and the third sector cannot come up with the additional funding that is required in an already competitive and strained arena.
Overall, the immediate impact is felt on child and adult service users. They have their own cost of living crisis. Descending further into poverty, choosing between heating or food, do they eat or do they keep warm?
Faced with an inability to access services for their care, both they and their families are faced with no or limited support. Support workers are also facing similar living conditions. Last year we were already at epidemic levels of children being unable to access mental health services and complex care. We cannot allow this crisis to deepen, the UK and Scottish Governments must act now.
Ultimately, for the care workers who remain, we have a responsibility. They do it because they care. They go above and beyond the call of duty, but we cannot continue to exploit their goodwill. For the families who have been waiting for years for support, who are at breaking point, and the children with no access to services, the situation can prove catastrophic. Without the necessary support, people will die.
We know what we need to do, increase resourcing. However, there has been no formal dialogue with the social care sector regarding the current crisis. No requests or suggestions on how we can provide the services in the current climate. All we have is silence. Remember, we will all be affected by these issues or need care in our lives, and we simply need to act now.
LOVE Learning is a member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition. This article first appeared in The Scotsman on 15th September 2022.