Women bear the brunt of the care crisis

Nov 3, 2016 | Analysis

With the Autumn Financial Statement just three weeks away, a major new report launched today by the PSA Commission on Care calls on the government to take urgent and comprehensive action to tackle the crisis in care for older people.

The report, Towards a New Deal for Care and Carers, laments the failure of successive governments and political parties to recognise social care as a political priority. Growing demand resulting from a rapidly ageing population and cutbacks to funding has left the formal care system at breaking point with high levels of unmet needs, low pay and poor conditions for care workers, and an increasing reliance on unpaid carers. There are now a million older people with care needs that are not being met by any public source1.

The report is based on a year-long inquiry into the state of care for older people in England. Key findings include that:

  • Women are bearing the brunt of the care crisis: they are often expected to step in to fill the gap when the state fails to provide care services, are over-represented among low paid care workers, and more likely to be care recipients themselves.
  • Complexity of rules and regulations are denying care to many; accessing social care in England appears to be only possible for those who are energetic, patient, competent in negotiating bureaucracy, numerate and determined.
  • BAME communities are poorly served by the care system with ‘one size fits all’ approaches, often driven by the pressure to achieve cost-savings when commissioning, failing to meet their specific needs.

The Commission recommends:

  1. THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A NATIONAL CARE SERVICE that provides care free at the point of delivery and has equal standing to the NHS.
  2. GREATER INVESTMENT IN THE SOCIAL CARE INFRASTRUCTURE alongside the existing investments in physical infrastructure.
  3. PROFESSIONALISATION AND SUPPORT OF THE CARE WORKFORCE, which would entail a national policy on recruitment and training of domiciliary and residential care workers, with a new qualification that bridges the gap between care workers and nurses to deal with increasing complex care needs.
  4. RECOGNITION OF THE WORK OF ALL UNPAID CARERS AND SUPPORT FOR THEM by establishing and promoting a national source of information and guidance for individuals and family members about care, including financial entitlements, availability of different services, and assessments.

Belinda Phipps, Chair of the Commission commented:

It is clear: the social care system is unsustainable and in crisis. This crisis has been caused by sustained under-funding and made worse by six years of austerity policies and a dysfunctional care system. A lack of political will to solve it has perpetuated it.

The care system is failing recipients of care and their families, care workers and ultimately society. The care crisis may be perceived as ‘too big’ to tackle, but this is a false economy.

Failing to take action has high costs, not just in the care sector but also to the NHS. The short-term savings that come from cutting eligibility to care often serve merely to increase the number of people with acute care needs that ultimately are far more costly to address.

Professor Shirin Rai, Member of the Commission said:

We call on the government to work towards a National Care Service that is free at the point of delivery, sustainably funded and staffed by a qualified and well-paid workforce. In the short term, we call for an immediate funding boost to end bed-blocking, tackle unmet need and relieve pressure on the many unpaid carers who are stepping in as a measure of last resort.

We strongly urge on the government to make investment in social care a priority in the upcoming Autumn Financial Statement, not only for economic reasons but to secure a fair and caring society where everyone gets the support they need, irrespective of their colour, class or creed.

About the PSA Commission on Care

The Political Studies Association (PSA) Commission on Care was established in September 2015 to investigate the urgent crisis in the care sector and, in particular, the failure of successive governments to take action in the face of this crisis. The Commission brings together academic and policy expertise through the co-operation of the following organisations: Universities of Warwick and Sheffield, the Fawcett Society and Women’s Budget Group.

The executive summary and full report is available for download here.


1 The health and care of older people in England 2015 (October 2015)