Local authorities are being ‘strongly’ encouraged to work closely with providers to grow workforce capacity, following a £600m funding package to help with recruitment and retention in social care.
The money consists of £570m over two years, distributed to local authorities, and £30m for councils in the most challenged health systems. The core of the fund is worth £365m in 2023/24 and £205m in 2024/25.
As part of the Market Sustainability and Improvement Fund to support local authorities to make improvements to adult social care services in their area, build capacity and improve market sustainability, the £570m is being provided as ‘flexible’ funding to allow councils to tailor it to benefit needs.
Care minister Helen Whately is writing to councils about preparations for winter, and NHS England has written to NHS organisations encouraging contingency planning. Local health and care systems are being encouraged to prepare jointly, increasing resilience and preparedness for seasonal viruses such as flu or Covid.
‘The government expects that this new £570m investment will enable local authorities to make tangible improvements to adult social care capacity,’ its guidance said.
Councils can choose to use the funding to increase fee rates paid to adult social care providers; grow adult social care workforce capacity and retention; or reduce adult social care waiting times.
‘We strongly encourage local authorities to work closely with providers to use this additional funding to grow workforce capacity by investing in improved pay for people who work in care,’ guidance said. ‘We expect growth in workforce capacity to support more local authorities to cope with potential winter challenges in the short-term.’
The investment builds on the government’s workforce reforms set out in the Next Steps to Put People at the Heart of Care plan backed by £250m. This was halved from the ‘at least’ £500m outlined in the People at the Heart of Care: adult social care reform white paper.
The latest support aims to help work towards flexible, integrated career pathways between health and social care, in-line with the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.
‘Our workforce reforms will help more people pursue rewarding careers in social care with nationally recognised qualifications. Our investment in social care means more funding to go to the front line. This matters, because support for our care workforce is the key to more care and better care,’ said minister for care Helen Whately.
‘A stronger social care system, hand in hand with our NHS, will help people get the care they need, when and where they need it.’
The Department of Health and Social Care has also sent letters to local adult social care systems and providers to share the government’s priorities for the sector this winter and highlight actions local systems and care operators should take to protect individuals, carers and the sector. This is to ensure a ‘whole system’ approach is taken to plan for the colder months.
Liz Jones, National Care Forum, policy director, said: ‘We welcome the announcement of this ringfenced funding to local authorities intended to support the social care workforce. Hopefully, the clear grant conditions will ensure that it gets passed on to providers to enable them to reward their staff better, well in advance of winter pressures.’
Beverley Tarka, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services president, said: ‘By announcing this funding now, guaranteeing the funding over two years and giving councils flexibility to spend it where it will make the most difference, the government is putting us in a much better place than last year, when funding came too late, while we were already in the middle of a winter crisis.
‘For example, this funding could be used by councils to invest in providing more care at home to prevent people needing to go into hospital, offering carers more support or targeting funds to counter the challenges they face with the recruitment and retention of the workforce.’
Homecare Association chief executive Dr Jane Townson said: ‘Local authorities in many areas prioritised the first tranche of the Market Sustainability and Improvement Fund to increase fee rates for homecare.
‘We urge the government to disperse this second tranche of funding in a way which prioritises areas of higher deprivation. Homecare fee rates must be adequate to ensure, as a minimum, compliance with employment and care regulations. We want to see the government walking the talk on “levelling up” to reduce inequalities.’
In addition to the £600m, the National Institute for Health and Care Research has launched a £10m per year funding programme focused on social care research.