Over half of social care providers cite barriers to cost of purchasing digital solutions
Independent research commissioned by learning disabilities charity Hft found that COVID-19 has taken its toll on the social care workforce, with 62 percent of providers reporting a rise in absenteeism relating to mental health since the beginning of the pandemic.
Compared to last year, this marks a 10 percent increase on average across the sector, during a time when care staff are playing a crucial role on the frontline to support vulnerable adults.
Provided annually, the report is based on a survey of social care providers who were asked about their financial health and the challenges they faced during 2020. 72 social care took part in this year’s Sector Pulse Check survey.
As well as mental health issues and financial difficulties faced by social care providers, Hft’s report unveils over three-quarters of providers said a lack of digital skills amongst those they support was a fairly, or very, large barrier to them keeping in touch with loved ones.
Similarly, almost six in ten providers said the cost of purchasing new or additional technology was a fairly, or very, large barrier to helping those they care for remain in touch with friends and family.
Looking at health mental health support, the report found that three in five providers dug deep into their own pockets during the last year to fund mental health first aiders as part of a raft of preventative measures taken to safeguard their staff.
Reflecting on the previous year, the report highlights a rise in a range of actions that were taken to promote mental health across the board in an effort to protect the workforce, despite more than 56 percent of providers reporting declining surpluses or already being in deficit.
A staggering 96 percent of providers reported signposting to mental health services, up from 67 percent, while 87 percent provided mental health awareness training. The number providing in-house mental health first aiders has also risen from 38 percent to 62 percent.
The report further highlights that social care providers appear to be reaching a crisis point and have been forced to resort to measures to reduce capacity to tackle the persistent cost pressures over recent years.
The main cost pressure cited was rising wage bills (79 percent) followed by lack of fee income (63 percent). As a result, around two-thirds said they have had to close down some parts of their organisation or hand back marginal contracts, up from 45 percent in the previous report.
Furthermore, around a third of providers have made redundancies, in keeping with the last two years, with one in ten saying they have had to offer care to fewer individuals. This is a trend that looks set to continue, Hft highlights, with over half stating they are more likely to close down some parts of their organisation or hand back marginal contracts and 47 percent likely to make staff redundancies in response to coronavirus cost pressures.
The research has prompted calls from the charity to shine a light on the pandemic’s forgotten workforce by publicly recognising their efforts and investing in the sector.
An open invitation has been sent to all MPs, offering the opportunity to find out more about the report and the challenges faced by the sector at a virtual parliamentary event on Wednesday 10 March 2021.
Kirsty Matthews, Chief Executive for Hft, said: “Our Sector Pulse report shows that in a year where the social care sector has played a pivotal role on the frontline, providers have gone to great lengths to support staff, who are crucial role to supporting some of the most vulnerable adults in society.
“It’s time to shine a light on the pandemic’s undervalued workforce and publicly recognise their efforts. It is vital the government provides a cash injection specifically to ensure frontline social care staff have the mental health support they deserve, and that it is not at the expense of an already beleaguered sector.
“While the Covid-19 pandemic has seen some additional funding enter the sector, it falls far short of solving an enduring and underlying financial challenge. The precarious financial situation is a culmination of years of financial pressures, which have forced providers to take drastic action in order to remain sustainable. It is vital that the government brings forward a long term funding solution for adult social care to safeguard the future of the sector.”
Hft is now calling on the government to ensure the future financial sustainability of the social care sector by providing immediate funding to stabilise the social care system while working towards an equitable and sustainable funding solution in the longer term.