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, highlighted 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 tomorrow (March 10).
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 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.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to ensuring people receiving care can access the support they need during this difficult time.
‘To support social care workers’ wellbeing, the government has invested over £1.4bn in adult social care, on top of £4.6bn for local authorities to address pressures on public services, free PPE and increased staff testing.
‘We have also worked with the NHS and other organisations to develop a package of psychological and practical resources, including ‘Our Frontline’, which is a source of information and emotional support for those in need.
‘Delivering a care system that is fit for the future remains a top priority and we will bring forward proposals for social care later this year.’
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