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£8bn needed to keep pace with demand for social care in England over next decade

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Social care funding in England will have to rise by more than £8bn over the next 10 years simply to keep pace with demand, and grow at more than double the rate of the past decade if quality and access are to improve, according to a new study.

Demand for social care had risen sharply in both younger adults and older people, according to the Health Foundation. It found that the number of people awaiting assessment for care increased fourfold from 70,000 in September 2021 to 294,000 in April 2022, according to estimates provided by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass).

The study, which modelled four different funding scenarios, said social care spending had grown by an average of 2.6 per cent a year in real terms between 2014/15 and 2021/22. But under current government spending plans, a funding gap of £600mn would have opened up within the coming year and by 2032/33, this would have widened to £8.3bn.

In the decade from 2022, spending would need to increase by around 3.4 per cent a year simply to keep up with the projected growth in demand, the organisation said.

A complete overhaul of social care to improve access as well as meet demand would cost an extra £18.4bn by 2032/33, representing a 6 per cent a year real-terms increase, the Health Foundation said. This included ensuring care providers were reimbursed by local government for the full cost of care provision.

Anita Charlesworth, director of the Foundation’s REAL Centre which carried out the work, said demand was rising due to the rapid ageing of the baby boomer generation and the increasing numbers of younger adults with care needs who were living longer due to medical advances.

Simply ensuring that access and quality of care did not fall further “would require increases in funding which are 30 per cent more than the increases we’ve seen over recent years, and double the rate of GDP growth . . . with no plan at the moment, really for where that’s going to come from”, she added.

Successive governments had “kicked the can down the road”, she said, adding: “I think our political system is really struggling to cope with the scale of the challenge in addressing social care and the range of problems that need to be fixed simultaneously.”

She highlighted the growing number of providers that were unable to cover their overheads and were at risk of going bust. She said if the sector was to remain intact at a time of growing need “then we need a comprehensive solution,” adding: “And what clearly frightens [politicians] about that is that it comes with a price tag, and no amount of reform is going to take away from that fact.”

Beverley Tarka, Adass president, said social care directors faced a widening gap between their budgets and the number of people needing increasingly complex care and support as inflation and cost-of-living were pushing up costs. Continuing with the status quo meant “a continued slide into a progressively unsustainable financial situation for adult social care”, she added.

The report sent “a clear message to all political parties that they need to commit to a long-term, fully-funded plan for social care,” Tarka said.

David Fothergill, who chairs the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said “significant uplifts” in funding for social care were needed in order to meet future demand “let alone address the ever-growing rise in current unmet and under-met need”. He called on the government to address the issue in the Autumn Statement in November.

The government said it was “fully committed to our 10-year vision to reform adult social care”. It added that it was spending £700mn over two years, including £250mn for the workforce to develop skills and careers, on top of £7.5bn investment to help reduce adult social care waiting times and increase capacity.

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