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By Debbie le Quesne

Let us work together to secure the future of care

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Like countless others in the care sector I have joined the chorus in the West Midlands calling on councils to  pay a viable rate for care beds purchased from the private, charity and voluntary sectors.

The care landscape is bleak and my WMCA has warned closures are imminent and there is little regional capacity to take up those frail and needy residents who may be displaced. To this end we are desperate to work with local authorities to find mechanisms that will secure the future care of the most vulnerable and the survival of local businesses.

At an emergency meeting of the association, members heard George Osborne’s living wage directives could “be the final nail in the coffin for care as we know it.”

In an attempt to secure a funding lifeline to the industry, we are calling on MPs, councillors, local authority officers and Clinical Commissioning Groups to meet with us to discuss future ring-fenced funding for social care.

The vast majority of Black Country care businesses rely on placements paid for by councils as a primary income generator and more than 26,300 people across the region receive residential care. A similar number have care at home.

In recent weeks, five care home corporates with 1,200 properties between them have written to the Chancellor warning of impending disaster following his Budget reforms on the living wage.

The big five – Four Seasons Health Care, Bupa UK, HC-One, Care UK and Barchester – look after 75,000 frail, old people. They claim a major provider is likely to close within a year to 24 months unless the Government releases its purse strings. The response: Silence.

The national picture is indeed gloomy, but in our region it’s much, much worse and Osborne’s announcement has caused shockwaves across the region. So many are already in crisis . . . and now this.

The legislation impacts massively on all streams of care as indeed it must doe with many other businesses.

A WMCA impact analysis suggests the Osborne wages regulation will add £23 per week to the care cost of every Midlands person in a residential care setting. But we need to add to that figure a further £50, the current average weekly operational deficit on council-funded places.

If the corporates – HC-One is one of our members – are predicting at best only a two-year survival rate under current economies, what chance have my other members, who have much smaller homes and much-depleted resources?”

As for thepromised autumn Government Spending Review . . . I fear too little, too late.

Residential care occupancy levels throughout the Midlands are averaging 97 per cent and there’s not not a member in the association who is not anxious about the future wellbeing of those requiring care.

For those who think we do not want to pay the living wage, think again, please. All of my members would happily apply the living wage, but there is no financial sleeve left in their business models to do so. Care home companies are not just crying wolf. Care is a minimum wage industry and profit margins are extremely tight, especially where council referrals are the main income.

Do you know that for the last nine years fees have fallen below the viable cost of running a care home?

Over the last five years, for example, Dudley Social services has given rises totalling 8.9 per cent while the Consumer Prices Index is at 11.6 per cent, the Retail Price Index at 15 per cent and wage rises are hitting 12.3 per cent. The rises don’t track cost and we clearly need some Government benevolence to help both councils and care providers.

Recently Sandwell Council’s cabinet met to respond to a WMCA call for a fees increase of 16 per cent – residential care from £378 per week to £438.46; dementia care from £428 per week to 496.48; and residential nursing care from £490 per week to £568.00.

What do we get? A 1.5 per cent rise for residential care and a 2.5 per cent rise for nursing.

Latest figures from Industry analysts LaingBuisson reveal English councils pay £91 a week less than what is needed for fully compliant care.

In 2013 Birmingham City Council commissioned accountants and analysts KPMG LLP to establish the true cost of care through the Open Book initiative where care providers were asked to submit their accounts.

Some 380 homes were targeted and the results showed to meet escalating costs commissioners would need to pay £460 per week.

Two years on, and not including the implications of the living wage, It would take an l increase of six per cent to bring homes to the minimum figures used by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Care (ADASS) as the threshold for safe care announced this spring. An extra three per cent would allow homes to cover increases in operational costs.

Sadly, if a major employer were to make this kind of warning there would be huge interest over the potential loss to the economy. What we have here is a bunch of businesses across the region that create about 125,00 carer jobs for adult social care (figures from Skills for Care).

“That dwarfs the employment stats of say Jaguar LandRover and it’s deeply worrying that few of these jobs are secure under present funding models.

Listen, councils do have choices what to do with funds and government austerity can no longer be an excuse for not addressing the finances of care.

I would call upon our local councilors to make decisions of conscience on funding that will directly impact on the most vulnerable people in the electorate they serve.

It is a fact that a dog walker can earn more than we can pay our carers. There is something radically wrong.

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