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Cash-strapped care providers cutting support for vulnerable adults

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A growing number of care providers for people with a learning disability have run out of options to make cost savings and have been forced to cut support for vulnerable adults, a new report has found.

The research commissioned by Hft, a national charity supporting adults with learning disabilities, shows that one in five organisations are offering care to fewer individuals as a means of balancing the books, a rise of 12% from 2018, with 95% citing rising wage bills as the main drain on resources.

Hft public affairs and policy manager Billy Davis said the Sector Pulse Check survey had previously found that providers were making cost savings in other areas, such as streamlining IT systems.

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But the lack of a sustainable cash injection for the social care sector has seen providers resorting to offering care to fewer people to manager spiralling costs at a time when demand is growing.

“No organisation sets out to offer care to fewer individuals,” Billy told CHP sister title Home Care Insight.

“It is culturally at odds of what we do. What this year’s report is showing is that cuts are now starting to affect people, not processes, as staff and the people we support begin to bear the brunt of further funding cuts.”

The report revealed that fewer organisations had made internal efficiency savings in 2019 (79% compared with 92% in 2018), closed down parts of the organisations and/or handed back contracts (45% compared with 59%), curbed investment (39% compared with 45%) and reduced the scope of services provided (24% compared with 35%).

But around the same proportion of care providers (33%) had to shred staff this year compared with 35% last year, and there was a dramatic rise in the proportion of providers offering care to fewer people (20% compared with 8%).

Billy added: “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 research is Hft’s third annual Sector Pulse Check report, carried out by independent economics and business consultancy Cebr, and was the first of its kind to focus primarily on learning disability providers.

In last year’s report, 11% of providers warned further cuts in funding could lead to a reduction in the quality of care.  This year, 43% of providers said that they had witnessed a negative effect on the quality of care they were able to provide, citing an increase in complaints, worsening CQC accreditations and a decrease in morale as the most severe indicators of a decline in standards.

As found in previous surveys, rising wage bills remain by far the largest cost pressure facing providers, with the increase in the National Living Wage (NLW) having the biggest impact.

Almost all (95%) care providers reported rising wage bills to be the biggest cost pressure, compared with 88% in 2018, with 63% saying the NLW had a significant impact.

Increasing wages for higher paid staff, not on the NLW, are also causing wage bill pressures, with 35% reporting this having a significant impact.

Billy said Hft supported any increase in the NLW rate that would see hardworking staff paid more for the invaluable work they do. However, he said the introduction of the NLW had come at a time when local authorities across the country had experienced cuts to the amount of money they receive from central government to fund social care.

“This has meant that social care providers have witnessed a reduction in the rate at which social care packages are commissioned. For Hft, staff pay already accounts for up to 80% of our total expenditure, with the remaining 20% needing to be used to pay for all the other aspects that go into delivering high-quality, person-centred support,” Billy said.

“As the National Living Wage continues to rise, this has led to the cuts and internal efficiency savings we have seen providers engage in to become financially sustainable.

“The underfunding of social care is a national crisis, and so requires a national solution.”

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The author Lee Peart

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