New Age UK research, carried out in late January and early February 2021 shows that older people’s need for social care has been intensified by their experience of the pandemic and lockdowns, and that many heroic older carers have temporarily had to take on more caring responsibilities as formal care services have been battered by the virus.
Social care, already struggling before the virus arrived, is in no position to meet this increased demand. As a result it is imperative, the Charity says, that the Chancellor continues social care’s extra pandemic funding through 2021 in his forthcoming Budget. Otherwise, millions of older people who have already endured so much will face further suffering in the months to come.
The Charity’s analysis shows that:
- 10% of older people aged 60+ say that they now find it harder to look after themselves since the start of the first lockdown, equivalent to 1.6 million older people overall.
- 40% of carers aged 60+ say they are providing more care since the start of the pandemic, equivalent to more than 900,000 older carers overall.
The Charity says that these findings reflect what it has heard from many older people and from clinicians and frontline social care staff too. They also reinforce the picture painted by the Charity’s first wave of research into the impact of the pandemic on older people’s health and care needs. Carried out in the summer and autumn of 2020 [insert reference] this earlier study included accounts from older people about how their mental and physical health had been undermined by fear of the virus, prolonged isolation and reduced physical activity, damaging their self-confidence and leading to muscle weakness, termed ‘deconditioning’ by clinicians. Older people’s long term health conditions had often worsened and it had been difficult for them to access routine health care or help with new health problems.
All this is sadly a sure-fire recipe for older people’s social care needs to ratchet up, as Age UK’s new study has now found.
The Charity points out that social care was struggling to cope before the pandemic began and that unfortunately, everything that has happened since then has heaped further stress on an already beleaguered system. Costs have risen for care providers and vacancies caused by the toll of deaths and fewer new residents in care homes have brought the sustainability of some services into question. In addition, care staff becoming ill and having to self-isolate has led to a reduction in the services on offer, especially for those needing care in their own homes. Older people have also sometimes been reluctant to let care staff in during the pandemic, lest they unintentionally bring the virus with them.
This helps to explain why so many older carers have had to take on more care themselves over the last year, and we know that more families have been forced to help out too [Carer’s UK – Caring behind closed doors: 6 months) but the Charity says this is not something that can continue indefinitely. That’s because piling pressure on already stretched older carers risks these caring arrangements breaking down completely. Formal social care services must step up again or millions of older people will be left in a perilous position, without the support they need. It goes without saying that if they don’t receive it pressure will simply be diverted onto the NHS, which has more than enough to deal with already, given long waiting lists for treatment and exhausted staff.
During the pandemic the Government increased its funding to social care through a series of exceptional grants, but these are all due to finish in the next few months. With older people’s needs so clearly increasing and care services continuing to struggle the Charity says it is essential that these investments are extended, in recognition of the ongoing adverse impact of the pandemic on this vital area of public service.
Age UK is therefore calling for the following grants and funds to be extended until at least the end of this calendar year:
The ringfenced Infection Control Fund
Due to end on 31 March 2021, this fund, totalling £1.146 billion, is aimed at supporting providers to implement infection control measures related to Covid-19 – predominantly focussed on stopping the movement of the workforce between care settings. It is distributed via local authorities.
The commitment of free provision of PPE for adult social care
Social care providers have been able to access free PPE for Covid-19 requirements, an important enabler for visiting and crucial support given the cost of PPE has rocketed – but this is set to end at the end of June 2021.
The ringfenced Workforce Capacity Fund
The adult social care sector is able to access £120 million to strengthen workforce capacity via local authorities. Due to end on March 31 2021 this Fund is helping to fill the yawning gaps in care staffing.
The State backed indemnity to care homes
This is a time limited state-backed indemnity until Mid-March 2021 available to care homes which are registered as a designated setting and which cannot secure their own insurance to cover them. Insurance worries are one of the reasons that some care homes have been reluctant to begin visiting again so really this funding needs expanding beyond ‘designated settings’, as well as extending in terms of duration.
The hospital discharge funding through 2021
From 1st September 2020 to 31st March 2021, the NHS has been provided with a £588 million fund to cover adult social care for people needing additional care after being discharged from hospital – this includes social care & access to community rehabilitation services. There are huge worries, including among clinicians, that once this funding stops many more older people will be stuck in hospital after they are medically fit enough to leave.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said:
“The pandemic has intensified many older people’s need for care but after the battering it has received social care itself is effectively broke and in no position to respond. That’s why it is essential that the Chancellor extends the emergency funding for social care in his Budget, so older people are not left high and dry.
“This emergency situation is far from over so far as social care is concerned and it will take at least a year, more likely two, before providers can stabilise their finances. Therefore, just as with some other sectors, the Government must give social care the continuing financial support it desperately needs.”
“The Prime Minister has recently said he will bring forward proposals for the long-term reform of social care later this year and Age UK will certainly be holding him to his pledge. However, in the meantime we have to keep social care going and that’s where the Chancellor must come in with more immediate funding in his Budget. If he fails to do so he will simply be heaping more pressure onto the NHS at a time when it needs to focus all its energy on recovery and bringing down waiting lists for treatment. Hospital beds filled with older people who are medically fit to leave but who are marooned by the lack of care in the community is the last thing the NHS needs.”
“Older people have been through the mill this last year and it is no exaggeration to say that for some the pandemic has pressed the fast forward button on ageing. It is essential that the Government and the NHS recognise the resultant increase in their need for good health and social care and ensure the resources are there to help them.”