Providers forced to cut support, finds survey

Billy Davis, Hft public affairs and policy manager

The number of social care providers who say they have been forced to cut support for vulnerable adults has doubled in the past 12 months as a direct result of financial pressures, according to a report.

Independent research commissioned by Hft, a national charity supporting adults with learning disabilities, found one in five organisations surveyed reported offering care to fewer individuals as a means of balancing the books (a rise of 12% from 2018).

The report, Sector Pulse Check: The impact of the changes to the social care sector in 2019, said: ‘This worrying trend suggests that some social care providers may have run out of other options and now have no choice but to reduce the number of people in their care.’

A total of 77 providers took part in the survey, which found a third (33%) having to shed staff in the past year, while almost half (45%) closed down some parts of the organisation or handed back contracts. More than half (52%) expect to have to do so in the future.

As reported in January, Hft said it had been forced to hand back a small number of ‘unsustainable’ services over the past year.

Ninety-five percent of those surveyed cited rising wage bills as the main drain on resources.

The document said unfunded increases in the National Living Wage continue to be the biggest financial pressure facing providers. It said: ‘While it is absolutely right that social care staff should be paid more for the invaluable work that they do, this must be factored into the rates at which social care packages are commissioned. With wage levels due to increase to £8.72 p/h in April 2020, it is vital that providers are funded to continue to pay higher wages in a financially sustainable way.’

The research is Hft’s third annual report, carried out by independent economics and business consultancy Cebr, and focuses primarily on learning disability providers.

It found providers were taking action to promote positive mental health within their organisations, the sector recognises the benefits of technology, and the workforce shares a common motivation to make a difference to the lives of vulnerable adults.

Billy Davis, Hft public affairs and policy manager, said: ‘As our sector pulse report shows, the sad reality is that the social care sector has run out of options. While in the previous report providers were focusing on streamlining through internal efficiency savings, we can now clearly see that cuts are affecting people, not just processes.

‘The lack of a sustainable cash injection for the sector has seen providers resorting to offering care to fewer people to manage spiralling costs at a time when demand for social care is widely acknowledged to be growing.

‘The fact that providers are now having to take what they reported to be their least favoured cost cutting measures illustrates that these decisions are not being taken lightly. A lack of alternatives has left providers with no choice but to make decisions culturally at odds with the way they want to run their organisations, such as handing back services and, ironically, shedding staff in the midst of a sector-wide recruitment crisis.’

Hft is calling for the Department for Health and Social Care to bring forward its long overdue proposals on reforms for the long-term future funding of adult social care. However, Prime Minster Boris Johnson has given his government until the end of the year to publish its plans.