A social care leader has warned the social care sector will collapse unless the Welsh Government invests more money in independently-run care homes and domiciliary care.
Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, was speaking after the UK Government gave the go-ahead for local authorities in England to raise more money by raising council tax.
According to Mr Kreft, it was a recognition that social care is in crisis but stressed that putting up council tax wouldn’t come close to solving the problem.
What’s made the situation even more urgent, he said, was the UK Government’s decision to raise the minimum wage without knowing where the money was coming from.
The dire need was underlined by the almost weekly closures of independently-run care homes and nursing homes across Wales.
Domiciliary care providers were also struggling, with more and more of them having to hand back contracts to local councils because they were financially unsustainable, with prices being driven down in some areas by aggressive procurement tactics.
Mr Kreft revealed the toolkit used by local authorities to calculate fees meant it was inevitable that care practitioners were paid less than supermarket shelf stackers and dog walkers and that was wrong.
The only answer was for the fees paid to providers to be increased so that care homes and domiciliary care providers were able to pay staff what they deserved.
The need to integrate health and social care was also recently highlighted by an inquiry by the Welsh Assembly Health, Social Care and Sport Committee into “winter preparedness”.
The report recommended that the independent sector needed to be part of the solution which chimed with the message from Care Forum Wales.
Mr Kreft said: “Everyone now agrees that social care has become right up there at the top of the political agenda.
“It would appear from what we’re learning in England that they are taking on board that something has to be done and quickly.
“It is, however, also clear that just raising the council tax is not the answer. Last year in England 95 per cent of councils used a social care precept and it raised less than three per cent of what councils plan to spend on adult social care, so it’s just scratching the surface.
“It may be that allowing local authorities to access more ring-fenced money via the council tax or other means may be a part of the answer but here in Wales we need a tailored solution that’s appropriate for us and whatever we do has to be based on partnership, putting aside prejudice, working together.
“What we need in Wales is an integrated health and social care system, and extra funding to local councils needs to be ring-fenced to sustain the care sector.
“By integrating health and social care, we can rebalance the spending so that our resources are used far more effectively.
“At the moment we’re spending a great deal of money keeping people in hospital on the NHS, people who don’t need to be there.
“It’s costing a lot of money to keep them there and it would be cheaper and better for the vulnerable people concerned to be looked after in the world of social care, whether that’s in their own homes or in care home or a nursing home.
“We’ve got to ensure that people are getting the support they need at the lower end because that’s a preventative measure that can help keep people out of hospital in the first place.
“Prevention is always the best option. It means we can provide better, more appropriate care for people who really don’t need to be in hospital and it’s a lot, lot cheaper. To do otherwise is a false economy.
“As part of this process, we must recognise the fabulous services provided by the independent sector and the workforce that’s hugely undervalued.
“When the government was returned this year there was a clear pledge in the manifesto talking about social care being a sector of national strategic importance.
“We believe that this is absolutely the right thing to do, and there never has been a better time to find a new solution to this problem which isn’t just about money. It has to be funded.
“We cannot carry on providing services that equate to paying just 88p an hour for the registered nursing element of care for vulnerable people, or £20 over a 24 hour period, when it is £12 to walk your dog. Working in a supermarket stacking shelves can be more lucrative than being a care practitioner. That’s just wrong.
“The independent sector has always been part of the solution – it has never been the problem.
“The social care sector is made up of a network of valuable, community-based businesses that provide vital services and employment for thousands of people across Wales.
“We need to act urgently to make sure that we don’t lose any more capacity in terms of residential, nursing and domiciliary care. There is no time to lose.”