The following is a letter sent by NCF to the Chair of the Social Care Taskforce last week.

19th June 2020

Dear David

The NCF would like to give a very warm welcome to the establishment of the National COVID-19 Social Care Support Taskforce and congratulations to you in being appointed its chair.

We are writing an open letter to you to raise key issues, and are confident that we will be able to work well together with you to seize the opportunity that the taskforce provides to drive urgent action on the key strands of work to address the impact of COVID-19 on those receiving social care. This is vital if we are to continue to have a diverse, sustainable, responsive care sector that continues to support people to live fulfilling lives, with wellbeing and as much independence as possible.

One of the first issues the taskforce must tackle as an absolute priority is funding for social care to cope with the enormous costs being experienced by social care providers as a result of the COVID pandemic

The Government has passed £3.2bn to Local Authorities (LAs) to support the COVID response. We are all citizens immersed in this crisis, and so are fully aware that LAs face significant additional financial pressures including lost revenue and additional COVID responsibilities around shielding and homelessness to name a few, many of which emerged after the initial central government allocation.  However, the government explicitly identified social care as a key priority for this funding. In response to this, the LGA and ADASS recommended that Local Authorities pass this money on in the form of a 5% annual uplift (to cover annual increases in costs, such as increases to the National Living Wage and other operating costs) and a 10% COVID-19 specific uplift (to cover COVID specific related increases in costs). These percentage uplift recommendations were never enough in our opinion, but the approach seemed pragmatic and straightforward way to quickly give providers confidence to make decisions and plan how best to address this crisis.

Unfortunately, the experience of our members is that this money is still not reliably and consistently reaching the frontline of care. Through our ongoing engagement with members we know that key messages from them are as follows:

  • Some members have had no offers of any type of uplift – either annual or COVID related.
  • Offers within localities have varied on a provider by provider basis, seemingly viewing the costs of responding to a global health pandemic, including staffing, PPE usage, re-modelling of services, through a myopic lens predicated on the commissioning arrangements drawn from previous negotiations. Even where central guidance was produced by LGA and ADASS to move beyond this, recognising that the cost of a face mask is the cost of a face mask, whether you are in Wigan or Wiltshire, we heard that the authorities who took the guidance and administered a straightforward uplift were few and far between.
  • Even where a rapid offer was made, it was often limited to a three month period, ending on June 30th. With less than ten days to go, and the costs of COVID care remaining, our members have heard little direct communication about extending this, and have provided examples of it coming abruptly to an end.

ADASS published their budget survey on 18 June, with some hard hitting messages we support about the fragility of the social care sector and the very serious implications for those who need and use care and support services. Despite this, their survey states that LAs had, at the point of response, committed only £518m to providers, and had only actually paid out £194m to social care providers – a mere 6% of the total £3.2bn handed over by the Government. This is not sustainable.

The Infection Control Fund represented another key opportunity to get funding direct to the front line of care homes, but yet again the sector faces layers of bureaucracy via centralised constraining grant conditions and the inevitable spectre of variable interpretations and applications of the fund by 151 different local authorities – all the time taking away from the essential task of caring. In just one example received the authority in question placed wide ranging additional demands on providers to receive the fund including taking part in antibody testing, and providing phlebotomy trained staff to deliver. Important priorities, but absolutely not in any of the government conditionality to receive the funding.

This is no way to respond to a crisis. We need to see national and local leadership that cuts through the red tape and that puts aside the history and focuses on what needs to happen now to keep people safe.

Even before any of the new ways of working required by government to minimise workforce movement were brought in, we worked with partners across the provider sector and with LGA and ADASS agreeing that the care system needs an injection of £6.67bn to meet the COVID costs experienced by providers during the first 6 months of this crisis, which is by no means over.

It is vital that the Taskforce looks urgently at obtaining this funding, and ensuring a responsive crisis appropriate system for distributing funds to make sure that providers of all types of services can have confidence that what they hear said at the Downing Street podium becomes swiftly a reality.

This is absolutely not a blame game.  We recognise the very significant financial pressures that LAs are facing, and we need urgently to find a solution that doesn’t put authorities in a position of having to make extraordinarily difficult choices, which ultimately limit the distribution of the financial support that the Government intended to reach the frontline of care, and ensure that services continue to be provided to our most vulnerable citizens.

Together, we must work to ensure that we get the funding on track, to ensure each and every care provider can fulfill their commitments to enable those who receive care and support to have access to safe, quality, person centered care.

Yours sincerely,

Vic Rayner

Executive Director, National Care Forum.

[email protected] @vicrayner www.nationalcareforum.org.uk

Please note that this letter is public, and will be shared more widely.