UK Policy Briefings
Social Care, Gender and Covid-19
Date Posted: Monday 23rd November 2020
- WBG is in favour of a Universal Care Service that provides residential, domiciliary, and other forms of care, free at the point of delivery. It would have equal standing to the NHS.
- The need to reform the social care sector is long standing. After decades of cuts, deregulation and privatisation, the Covid-19 pandemic has made reform even more necessary and urgent.
- The care sector is dominated by private providers focused on profits and cost minimisation rather than appropriate care provision for those who need it.
- Deregulation has resulted in policy makers and practitioners with insufficient knowledge of the social care market and its fragilities. England has no national body responsible for the planning, registration and training of the workforce. Counted among key workers, social care staff are poorly trained, paid and treated.
- There are increasing geographical inequalities in the social care system. Central government grants to Local Authorities have halved since 2010. Income from local taxes have been insufficient to compensate for the cuts.
- Shortages of residential and domiciliary services have been rising especially in those areas with the greatest needs. In 2019 one in seven old people (1.4 million) living at home were not getting the care and support they needed,  a 50% increase since 2010. In some areas in the country there are ‘care deserts’ where there are no longer any residential care or nursing home beds. These services need to be local.
- Staff shortages are high: estimates suggest that in a workforce of 1.2 million there are 120,000 social care staff vacancies. Nearly a fifth of the current workforce were not born in the UK. The post-Brexit immigration system will exclude thousands of potential care workers because of their low pay and lack of qualifications. Investment in improving the training, pay and career opportunities of both the current and a future workforce is very urgent.
- The numbers of unpaid carers have grown steadily over the last two decades as overall life expectancies have increased but healthy life expectancies have not kept pace in the most deprived areas. Over the same period the number of adults with special needs and disabilities of working age has also grown. Since the onset of COVID-19 the numbers of unpaid carers have increased by an estimated 4.5 million to over 13.6 million in total.
- The needs of carers for more support from local social care services are growing. The ill-health and hardships experienced by family carers of all ages who have been shielding those needing their care during lockdown have remained invisible behind closed doors. As furlough is phased out their difficulties will become more visible.
- Those needing to combine paid employment with care will need services to support them as well as for those they are caring for. They also need employers offering flexible work and the right to periods of paid and unpaid leave
- The crisis in social care exacerbates gender inequality since women are more likely than men to work in care, be in receipt of care in old age and to take on responsibility for unpaid care for children, elderly, disabled and/or vulnerable people.
- WBG calls for a new settlement for social care that provides a stable, sustainable funding base to ensure that rising care needs are met now and into the future.
- The Universal Care Service should be funded at the national level to avoid the entrenchment of regional inequalities but delivered in response to local need and becoming well-integrated with community health services, in particular, and other local community services in general.
Investment in care is not only needed to transform our broken social care system, it is also a good way to stimulate employment, reduce both the gender employment and pay gaps and counter the inevitable economic recession as the UK comes out of lockdown.