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News | Published October 25 2018

Councils accused of buying care "on the cheap", with insight from Windward Day Services and Baronsmede Homes

A study conducted by the UK Homecare Association has found that only one in seven local councils are paying a fair price for care. Councils are responsible for organising care for local residents. This can range from medical support to assistance with the completion of daily tasks like washing, dressing and the preparation of meals.

The report found that these cost-cutting measures meant that visits from carers were being cut short. In response, councils stated that they did not have sufficient funding to pay for more.

Over 850,000 people are given support in their own home, otherwise known as domiciliary care, across the country. Roughly 80 per cent of this falls under the remit of councils to organise and these councils, in turn, often outsource this work to care agencies.

Key Facts
  • Councils pay average fee of £16.12 per hour for care
  • The UKHCA states that it costs £18.01 for providers to fulfil these obligations
  • The northeast and northwest of England have the lowest rates with Northern Ireland having the lowest in the UK

The UK Homecare Association, which is the umbrella group for these care agencies, compiled their report by asking over 200 councils and care trusts for information about the rate they paid for care provision. The average fee was £16.12 an hour but this varied across the country, with some councils paying below £13. These figures are in stark contrast to the actual cost of providing this care, which the UKHCA states is £18.01. This figure is calculated by factoring in the costs of running the service and the wages paid to care workers.

These findings led Colin Angel, policy and campaigns director for the UKHCA, to accuse councils of buying care “on the cheap.” He added that these low rates were forcing various care providers to hand back existing contracts and refuse to take on future ones as the price they were paid did not cover their expenditure. Angel stated that the amount paid could not provide for “adequate wages and the costs of running safe and effective services.”

Councils in the northwest and northeast of England had the lowest rates and Northern Ireland had the lowest across the UK.

These findings led Colin Angel, policy and campaigns director for the UKHCA, to accuse councils of buying care “on the cheap.” He added that these low rates were forcing various care providers to hand back existing contracts and refuse to take on future ones as the price they were paid did not cover their expenditure. Angel stated that the amount paid could not provide for “adequate wages and the costs of running safe and effective services.” Beyond this, he argued that the level of pay was having a knock-on impact on recruitment and staff retention alongside forcing agencies to reduce the number of visits and their duration. 

Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK, detailed the impact this was having on older and more vulnerable people. She said that: “It’s difficult not to feel anxious if you are an older person who relies on care at home.” Councillor Ian Hudspeth, who belongs to the Local Government Association, acknowledged that there was an issue but said councils could not afford to increase rates as the current system was at “breaking point.” He added that: “councils, care providers, charities and the NHS are all united around the need for central government to fully fund adult social care.” 

This low level of funding is an issue that has been frequently raised in the Care editions of The Parliamentary Review. Many care agencies also focus on the impact this rate has on their ability to recruit staff, with many struggling to attract younger generations into the profession

Baronsmede Homes, who appeared in our 2017/2018 Care edition, raised many of the issues that have been echoed in the recent report. Founder Dee Tormey wrote that: “Those organisations that are recognised as providing high quality services cannot maintain this indefinitely without appropriate levels of funding. There is still an expectation, however, by placing authorities for providers to deliver these at less than cost price. Providers are also expected to absorb annual fee increases below the rate of inflation, increases in the national minimum wage, auto enrolment pensions and disproportionate CQC fee increases. 

With increasing numbers of services reaching breaking point and leaving the marketplace, and fewer newer services being registered, the care sector is going into crisis. Without significant investment many specialist services, which took years to achieve the level of expertise required, will disappear from the marketplace and there will not be a quick fix solution to replace these. 

In order to provide real choice for people needing care, it is essential that we maintain a full range of residential and supported living options, and that these are funded appropriately, so that providers can deliver high quality services.”

Similarly, Rebecca Hamilton of Windward Day Services, raised concerns about cutbacks to funding prior to the release of the report, echoing many of its sentiments. She concluded her article by writing: “HCC’s intention to cut the learning disability budget by £19 million by 2017 was clearly a cause for concern for day services, and a recent announcement of a further £54 million savings from the adult social care budget before 2019 raises severe challenges for care providers and service users. Adequate funding is crucial to what we do.”

Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK, detailed the impact this was having on older and more vulnerable people. She said that: “It’s difficult not to feel anxious if you are an older person who relies on care at home.”