Pensioners are risking their health as they cut back on the care they pay for because of the cost-of-living crisis, finds a damning report on social care.
Councils who cannot meet rising demand for social care and the plight of family carers who are “completely overwhelmed” as they try to plug gaps are other issues highlighted by the Care Quality Commission.
Some vulnerable elderly have had to reduce their care visits “to a minimum”, impacting their quality of life, found the annual assessment of the state of health and adult social care in England.
The total number of new requests to councils for help rose by 3% between 2020/21 and 2021/22, reaching almost two million.
But 568,685 requests for services were not met while 522,850 requests received only universal services or were directed towards non-council services like charities and the voluntary sector.
A 15% drop in the amount of publicly funded homecare combined with access problems and the cost of living is seeing people “taking a step back” from the number of hours of care they can afford, according to the CQC’s interim chief inspector James Bullion.
And he warned of a knock-on effect on the NHS when people do not get the care they need at home.
He said: “The impact of that is twofold. For them, it might mean fewer personal care tasks being supported, but it also might mean a worsening of health and, therefore, an impact on the NHS.
“An added consequence is that relatives providing care are left completely overwhelmed. But family carers are the backbone of the social care and health system and if they tip over, the system tips over.”
The health regulator pointed to higher energy and food bills for care providers which are passed onto customers.
Some providers are also struggling to pay staff in line with inflation, affecting recruitment and retention in the sector.
Mr Bullion said a third of all providers are now reporting struggles with recruitment and retention of staff, while a quarter of providers said they are considering withdrawing from the social care market because of these issues.
He said: “So we’re very concerned that the market remains very stressed, very fragile. That’s despite us acknowledging the market sustainability grants that Government have given to councils and that councils have passed on. It’s been outpaced by the costs.”
Local authority budgets have failed to keep pace with rising costs and the increase in the number of people needing care, found the study.
This means there is a risk that people who live in poorer areas who are more likely to receive local authority-funded care, may not be able to get the care they need.
Tim Gardner, of the Health Foundation, said: “This report shows that the ongoing strains on NHS and social care services are driving unfair and unacceptable waits for care. While these pressures touch every part of England, the CQC highlights growing inequalities. In social care, new data also show that fewer people accessed long term support in 2022 than in 2015, despite growing demand.”
Kirsty McHugh, of the Carers Trust, said: “The challenges facing social care laid out in this alarming report are having a huge knock-on effect for millions of people who have to look after their loved ones at home. These family carers are essentially an unpaid workforce who are propping up a struggling system. This is leaving them particularly vulnerable to the cost-of-living crisis and forcing many into poverty, widening the inequality highlighted by the CQC.”
The CQC also warned that there has been “increasing pressure” in the past year to discharge people from hospital too early without being sure that there was support at home or in the community for patients.
These “unsafe discharges are putting people at risk, potentially leading to poorer outcomes in their health and care, and being re-admitted to hospital,” it said.
Sally Warren, director of policy at The King’s Fund, said: “The current model of social care in England is not fit for purpose and reform is long overdue.”