Governments of all political persuasions have been promising social care reform for the past 20 years. Regrettably, despite many government white papers, green papers, consultations, independent reviews and commissions over the years, reform has not occurred. Previous commitments made to this Committee have not come to pass; for example, to ensure long-term funding is in place or to set out plans for tackling the problems faced by the social care workforce.
COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on the care sector. Those receiving care, care workers and millions of unpaid carers deserve our upmost gratitude and respect. The pandemic has shone a light on the sector and underlined how vital it is to so many, while emphasising that care is not properly funded, lacks transparency and urgently needs reform.
The current system does not work for local authorities or those paying for their own care. Funding cuts have meant that most local authorities pay providers below the costs of care. This has led to many providers living hand to mouth, unable to make long-term decisions which would improve care services. While information about care quality is available, there is a lack of transparency about what people or local authorities get for the money they spend. The Department of Health and Social Care (the Department) has poor oversight of the system and seems complacent about the risks of local market failure. Despite welcome short-term measures to help stabilise the market, the Department urgently needs to provide confidence by announcing what support will be available to help providers move beyond COVID-19.
We cannot afford more broken commitments around care reform; now promised sometime in 2021. Reforms must address decades of neglect over support to carers, younger adults and home care. A long-term funding plan should be part of this, to allow local authorities and providers to innovate and improve services. The care workforce deserves better treatment. The Department must finally step up and produce a workforce strategy which tackles low pay, supports career development and aligns care with the NHS.