Most councils fear they will lack enough social workers and other frontline staff to implement the government’s adult social care reforms, the Local Government Association has found.
Three-quarters of lead councillors for adult social care said they were not confident they would have the required frontline capacity to deliver the reforms, which will come into force in October 2023.
These include an £86,000 cap on people’s personal care costs, a more generous means-test for council-funded care and the right of self-funders to have councils arrange their placement in a care home, at local authority fee rates.
These measures will require council practitioners to carry out several hundred thousand more assessments, reviews and care and support plans each year for people who currently fund their own care and, as a result, do not come into contact with their local authority.
Many more social workers needed
As a result, councils will need many more social workers and other practitioners to carry out this work, though the government believes some of it can be delegated to external organisations or to people with care needs themselves, through self-assessments.
The LGA survey, which was answered by 80 of the 152 lead councillors (53%), chimes with the sector’s response to a consultation on Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) guidance on implementing the reforms.
This found that a lack of social workers – and other key staff, such as financial assessors – was the sector’s key concern as it prepared for the reforms.
As well as the requirements of the reforms, councils have mounting backlogs of assessments, reviews and care packages and have seen their social work vacancy and turnover rates rise while the number of practitioners they employ falls.
The DHSC has allocated £3.6bn to implement the cap, the more generous means-test and the associated reform of pushing councils to pay providers a fair rate for care, to ensure fees at least cover services’ operating costs.
This is part of £5.4bn that the government plans to invest in adult social care from 2022-25, funded through the new health and social care levy – a 1.25 percentage point rise in employer and employee national insurance contributions and dividend tax.
However, council leaders have repeatedly warned that this was not enough, a point echoed in the LGA survey, 98% per cent of whose respondents said they were not confident the funding was sufficient.
On the back of the results, the chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, David Fothergill, called for “immediate assurances that the government will underwrite any additional costs councils incur and will work with councils as a matter of urgency to consider further mitigations that may need to be used if funding, capacity and timescale pressures threaten implementation”.
He added: “This survey lays bare the huge concerns of councils that the government’s charging reforms are significantly underfunded. This has the potential to tip councils over the financial edge.
“Underfunding these reforms will only exacerbate pre-existing significant pressures, which the reforms – and the funding for them – do nothing to address. These include unmet and under-met need, greater strain on unpaid carers and increased waiting times for assessments and delivery of care packages.”
Reforming adult care ‘a priority’
In response to the survey, a DHSC spokesperson said: “We have made it clear reforming adult social care is a priority and we are investing £5.4bn over the next three years to end spiralling care costs and support the workforce.
“This includes £3.6bn to reform the social care charging system and enable all local authorities to move towards paying providers a fair cost of care, and a further £1.7 billion to begin major improvements across adult social care in England, funded by the health and social care levy.
“Our investment via the levy is on top of record annual funding to help councils respond to rising demands and cost pressures.”