Social care providers have had to take “drastic action” to remain sustainable because of consistent cost pressures amid the coronavirus crisis, which has taken a heavy toll on workers in the sector, according to a new report.
Almost two out of three providers surveyed reported an increase in absenteeism among staff relating to mental health since the beginning of the pandemic.
Most of the 72 social care providers surveyed by Hft now offer mental health awareness training, while almost two thirds now provide in-house mental health first-aiders.
Hft, a leading learning disability charity, said its study highlights that social care providers appear to be reaching a “crisis point” and are having to tackle persistent cost pressures such as rising wage bills and lack of fee income.
More than half of respondents said they have had to close down some parts of their organisation or hand back contracts.
Around a third of providers said they have made redundancies, and one in 10 revealed they have had to offer care to fewer individuals.
Hft said the trend was likely to continue, adding that its research has shone a light on the pandemic’s “forgotten workforce”.
Kirsty Matthews, chief executive for Hft, said: “Our report shows that in a year where the social care sector has played a pivotal role on the front line, providers have gone to great lengths to support staff, who are crucial role to supporting some of the most vulnerable adults in society.
“It is vital the Government provides a cash injection specifically to ensure frontline social care staff have the mental health support they deserve, and that it is not at the expense of an already beleaguered sector.
“While the Covid-19 pandemic has seen some additional funding enter the sector, it falls far short of solving an enduring and underlying financial challenge.
“The precarious financial situation is a culmination of years of financial pressures, which have forced providers to take drastic action in order to remain sustainable. It is vital that the Government brings forward a long-term funding solution for adult social care to safeguard the future of the sector.”
Josie Dent, managing economist at Cebr, which conducted the research, added: “The finances of the social care sector continue to stand in a precarious position as costs rise, yet in spite of this, the research shows providers have increased their mental health support for staff over the past year.
“Furthermore, a lack of fee income, cited by over three in five organisations, means these increasing costs are difficult to fund. We are therefore seeing more and more providers close down some parts of their organisation or hand back marginal contracts and services to their local authority.”
Dr Rhidian Hughes, chief executive of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, said: “The report highlights the extent to which the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the challenges already faced by an over-stretched and underfunded social care sector.
“High quality support services for disabled people can be transformative and this report, as we collectively look to recover from a truly challenging year, clearly exposes how the Government and its agencies must do away with short-term fixes and instead invest in sustainable, long-term reform.”
Edel Harris, chief executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “Social care workers have been working hard in extremely challenging circumstances, risking their lives to keep the people they support safe and well.
“Tragically, some have lost their lives. Far too many are now struggling with poor mental health and exhaustion.
“Many social care providers have been doing what they can to support their colleagues during a very difficult time, but only a significant investment in social care reform will relieve the ongoing pressures on the sector and its workforce.
“Care workers deserve a long overdue pay rise to recognise their huge sacrifices during this crisis. Without investment and reform, we risk people with a learning disability and others not getting the support they need to lead healthy and happy lives.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring people receiving care can access the support they need during this difficult time.
“To support social care workers’ wellbeing, the Government has invested over £1.4 billion in adult social care, on top of £4.6 billion for local authorities to address pressures on public services, free PPE and increased staff testing. We have also worked with the NHS and other organisations to develop a package of psychological and practical resources, including ‘Our Frontline’, which is a source of information and emotional support for those in need.”
“Delivering a care system that is fit for the future remains a top priority and we will bring forward proposals for social care later this year.”
Unison senior national care officer Gavin Edwards commented: “From the early days of the pandemic when many care staff needed help with testing, sick pay and protective kit, they were met with disdain and indifference.
“It’s little surprise they’re facing a mental health emergency. The Government must now develop a support package specifically for care staff. It’s the least it can do.
“Exhausted, traumatised workers can’t be left to prop up the creaking care system. It’s important money is invested now to keep it afloat.
“But only total reform will solve the problems baked into the sector. The Government must build a national service to mirror the NHS, with quality care delivered by well-regarded, well-rewarded staff.”