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, a newly published report reveals.
Independent research commissioned by learning disabilities charity, Hft, found that Covid-19 has taken its toll on the social care workforce, with 62% 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% increase on average across the sector, during a time when care staff are playing a crucial role on the frontline to support vulnerable adults.
The report, reflecting on the previous year, 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% of providers reporting declining surpluses or already being in deficit. Nearly all providers (96%) reported signposting to mental health services, up from 67%, while 87% provided mental health awareness training. The number providing in-house mental health first aiders has also risen from 38% to 62%.
This is Hft’s fourth annual Sector Pulse Check report, carried out by independent economics and business consultancy Cebr, and the first of its kind to focus primarily on learning disability providers. Based on survey analysis from social care providers, it provides an annual snapshot of the financial health and the challenges faced by the social care sector over the past year, and an indication of how providers anticipate the next twelve months will progress.
The report also 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%) followed by lack of fee income (63%). As a result, more than half (62%) said they have had to close down some parts of their organisation or hand back marginal contracts, up from 45% in the previous report.
Around a third (29%) 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, with over half (51%) stating they are more likely to close down some parts of their organisation or hand back marginal contracts and 47% likely to make staff redundancies in response to Covid-19 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.”
Josie Dent, Managing Economist at Cebr, said: “The finances of the social care sector continue to stand in a precarious position as costs rise, yet in spite of this, the research shows providers have increased their mental health support for staff over the past year. Furthermore, a lack of fee income, cited by over three in five organisations, means these increasing costs are difficult to fund. We are therefore seeing more and more providers close down some parts of their organisation or hand back marginal contracts and services to their local authority, with 62% taking this action in 2020”.
Dr Rhidian Hughes, chief executive of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, said: “This year’s Hft Sector Pulse Report highlights the extent to which the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the challenges already faced by an over-stretched and underfunded social care sector. High quality support services for disabled people can be transformative and this report, as we collectively look to recover from a truly challenging year, clearly exposes how the government and it agencies must do away with short-term fixes and instead invest in sustainable, long-term reform.”
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.
To read the full report: visit www.hft.org.uk/sectorpulsecheckreport