A cross-party group of MPs have called for an urgent multibillion-pound injection into England’s crisis-hit social care system to address rising levels of need among older and disabled people and to improve pay and skills for care workers.
The health and social care select committee said ministers should invest at least £7bn a year in the care sector by 2023-24, though it said this was only a “starting point” and that it would not address unmet care needs nor improve access to care.
The full cost of adequately funding social care was likely to run into tens of billions, the committee said. It said this was essential if society was to look after vulnerable people “with the dignity and respect they deserve”.
“The current system is unfair, confusing, demeaning and frightening for the most vulnerable people in our society and their families. It is therefore essential that the government tackle the problems in the care sector as a priority,” the committee’s report says.
There is growing concern that thousands of people have died in recent months through the care system being ill-equipped and under-resourced for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The report calls for a £46,000 cap on the amount families should pay for means-tested care costs, in line with a limit originally proposed six years ago by the government-backed Dilnot commission but subsequently shelved by ministers.
Social care is means tested, and people with assets worth more than £23,000 have to contribute to their care costs. This means many are forced to use savings or sell their home. One in 10 people over-65 pays more than £100,000 for care.
Care workers should receive status and pay parity with NHS staff, the report recommends, and employment conditions for the care workforce should be improved by reducing over-reliance on zero-hours contracts, and by improving sick pay.
The committee’s chair, Jeremy Hunt, said: “The pandemic has held up in lights the brilliant and brave work done by the social care workforce, but the real thank you they want is not a weekly clap but a long-term plan for the crisis in their sector. We owe it to both the staff and families devastated by loss to make this a moment of real change.”
Cuts to local authorities’ funding mean increasing numbers of people in England and Wales are no longer receiving care such as help with washing, dressing and eating, the report says. It estimates that 1.4 million older people do not get the support they need.
Although the report stops short of proposing the government adopts a Scotland style-approach of ensuring all personal care needs for over-65s are free at the point of use, it says the idea is “worthy of consideration” by ministers.
At least 17 social care funding reform white papers, green papers and official reviews have been published in the past 20 years, none of which have borne fruit. The latest promised green paper has been delayed multiple times over the past two years.
A health department spokesperson said: “We recognise the challenges facing social care and we are doing everything we can to support the sector during the pandemic including through regular testing of staff and residents, free PPE and over £1.1bn through the Infection Control Fund.
“We remain absolutely committed to ensuring everybody is treated with dignity and nobody has to sell their home to pay for care.
“We know there is a need for a long-term solution for social care and are looking at a range of proposals as part of our commitment to bringing forward a plan that puts the sector on a sustainable footing for the future.”