In the two decades since the publication of the Sutherland Royal Commission report on long-term care the issues around the cost of caring for an ageing population remains one of the major issues in public policy. And we remain no nearer to its resolution.

While varying elements of catering for long-term care remain the responsibility of the UK Government, devolution has allowed a fair level innovation and diversity in approach including the introduction of free personal care in Scotland which was one of the main recommendations of the Sutherland Commission.

In Wales the National Assembly’s Finance Committee has recently published a useful report on the matter from a Welsh perspective.

In very broad terms the report looked at two inter-related issues i) delivering quality care and ii) how that care will be accessed and paid for.

The report highlighted that while social care in under considerable financial pressure in Wales the level of spend has remained broadly flat in real terms between 2009-10 and 2015-16 compared to a 6.4% decline in England. None the less with an increasingly older population the per capita spending has reduced by 12%.

In responding to this pressure, and despite the increase in numbers, there was evidence that fewer older adults were receiving care. It was suggested that this was in part a reflection of the Welsh Government’s policy to promote more self-reliance and a better matching of service to need but concerns was also expressed that eligibility criteria were being tightened which means that it is more difficult to access care.

There is a greater proportion of unpaid carers in Wales compared to other parts of the UK and Europe representing 12% of the population. They are responsible for 96% of the care that is given in the community even though 65% of older carers have health problems of their own. The Social Services and Well-being Act (2014) in Wales was intended to increase support for carers but of the 370,000 carers only about 6,200 / year had an assessment with less than 20% receiving an offer of care. In response the Welsh Government has said that it is preparing a major publicity drive to make the carers more aware of their rights and to better equip social workers in their assessment of carers’ needs.

In Wales the means testing for care services is more generous that in England with the Welsh Government committed to increasing the capital eligibility thresholds for residential care to £50,000 by the end of it present term. In addition there is a cap on the level of payments for domiciliary packages. There were concerns that these thresholds could deprive social services departments of vital resources but the Welsh Government grant support has prevented that from happening.

The social care sector remains in a fragile state.. There are many instances in which private domiciliary care companies have handed back contracts to local authorities who have, in some instances, been obliged to in-source the service. The residential care sector is also under pressure particularly smaller more community based care homes. In part this is down to the fees that it is able to agree with social services departments. The rates vary across Wales, often inexplicably, and the Welsh Government has committed itself to introducing a new assessment methodology to bring greater transparency and consistency in the fee structure. In addition it is hoped that this new process will address the concerns where self-funding care home residents are paying fee levels which are, in effect, cross subsidising the public sector.

These problems are compounded by the difficulties in the recruitment and retention of staff with some providers reporting turnover levels of 25-33% every year. There are real issues of pay, status and training that need to be addressed. The Welsh Government has been promoting the voluntary registration of domiciliary care workers from 2018 with the target of compulsory registration by 2020. As well it is committed to reducing the use of zero hours contracts and to requiring a delineation between travel and work time in the working day. However it is still difficult to keep care staff when faced with better pay and conditions in other parts of the public and private sector. And all of this is likely to be exacerbated by the UK’s departure from the EU.

The report also looked at future funding models. The Welsh Government believes that a UK wide solution would be preferable but the continuing postponement of the UK Government’s green paper on social care means that other options will have to be looked at including the use of Welsh income tax powers which will be available from April 2019.

In addition a lot of consideration was given to the social care levy which has been advanced by Prof Gerry Holtham and Tegid Roberts.. Their proposal involves the HMRC to collect a levy between 1-3% depending on a person’s age. This sum would be lodged in an investment fund and used to pay for an enhanced social care package. However the report strongly believed that there needed to be a wider public debate on what the public could expect to receive in return for their contributions. The Welsh Government has established an Inter-Ministerial Group on Paying for Social Care with five separate work streams to consider the the full range of the implications of such a social care levy.

The Welsh Government’s policy statement A Healthier Wales (2018) confirmed its intent to support closer collaboration between health and social care in Wales using regional partnership boards as their main instrument to achieve this. Concerns were expressed that Wales lacked a sufficiently robust evidence base to inform social care planning thought the Welsh Government was not convinced about this. There was also a recognition of the very useful role that the Intermediate Care Fund has played in facilitating joint working between health and local government bodies.

Overall this is a useful report which highlights many of the key challenges facing social care in Wales. However there is little evidence that the Welsh Government is in a position to move toward an fully integrated “health and care service” free at the point of use or that it is likely to seek the devolution of the administration welfare benefits service which could allow for a more innovative proposals for the paying for the care of older people in Wales.

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3 Comments

  1. Brian Henry Fisher says:

    Thank you, Jim. Do you have a reference for this report, please?

  2. Thank for this great post. If you have any reference, please suggest.

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