Cost of living: government must ‘act urgently’ to stop ‘catastrophic’ consequences for care homes and staff

The Government must “act urgently” against the worsening cost of living crisis to prevent care home closures and chronic staff shortages, leading charities and unions have said.

As energy bills and food prices continue to rise across the UK, there are concerns that care homes may struggle to keep open.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said “the unprecedented increase in energy bills is a disaster in the making for many care homes” and the charity is “extremely worried about how some will manage to stay afloat”.

The Government must “act urgently” against the worsening cost of living crisis leading charities and unions have said

Ms Abrahams said Age UK’s main concern is for the future of the residents if care homes can’t afford to keep running.

She said if the worst happens and a home has to close, residents will have to be moved somewhere else, which is “incredibly disruptive, confusing and distressing, particularly for those who are extremely frail or living with dementia”.

“If we were to see a wave of care home closures we would also worry that there would simply not be enough other settings able to take residents in,” Ms Abrahams added.

The charity director said the Government “cannot possibly allow a situation to develop this winter in which many care homes can no longer afford to operate” due to “eye watering” energy bills.

“They must intervene quickly to ensure this vital provision can keep going,” she added.

“We haven’t got enough care home beds as it is at the moment and to lose substantially more would be catastrophic for our older population, and their families."

‘Social care is facing enormous pressure from many fronts’

Nadra Ahmed OBE, executive chairman of the National Care Association, said the “resilience” in the care sector was low before the Covid pandemic and severely tested throughout, so the impact of the cost of living crisis “feels very much like a final blow”.

He added that the sector has seen “pitiful increases” in fee uplifts from local authorities, while increasing costs continue to “stifle” the care sector.

Care England said some care providers are suffering from increases in their energy costs of over 600%, with Mr Ahmed adding that the Association is hearing of cases where the increase is above 1,000%, with general cost of living challenges and rising interest rates on top of this.

A report from the South East Social Care Alliance (SESCA) also found that 45% of care providers in the South East of England were considering leaving the market.

Mr Ahmed explained care settings are unable to look at cost saving measures as they “would not want to compromise the wellbeing of those we support”, with heating, lighting, kitchens and laundry services to continue operating as normal.

He added: “Social care is facing enormous pressure from many fronts and this government will need to address them. We represent small to medium sized providers and surveys tell us that over 40% are very concerned about their ability to continue to run their services without financial support.”

The impact the cost of living crisis may have on the workforce must also be considered, Mr Ahmed said, as “they too face the same inflationary pressure as everyone else so their wage rates will be a great cause of concern for all providers”.

He noted that staff in home care services are already feeling the challenges of fuel costs and that there has been no movement so far from the Government or local authorities to address this issue.

Concerns around the impact the cost of living crisis may have on care workers have also been raised by the Unison.

The union’s head of social care, Gavin Edwards, said: “Even ​before the cost of living crisis, pay for care workers ​was woeful and not fit for ​the skilled job ​they do.

“​Add in rocketing energy and petrol costs ​and it’s no wonder there’s ​an excess of 160​,000 vacancies.”

He added: “Desperate care ​staff are ​jumping ship and employers are reporting chronic shortages.

“The government must act urgently to boost pay, something it’s consistently failed to do​”.

He also noted the issue of mileage rates, which he ​said have to be overhauled so community care workers “aren’t left out of pocket as they make vital visits to vulnerable people”.

What did Liz Truss say about the energy price cap?

New Prime Minister Liz Truss announced on Thursday (8 September) that a typical household will pay no more than £2,500 annually for its gas and electricity bills from the start of October.

In the first major policy announcement of her leadership, Ms Truss said the new price guarantee will last for two years and save the average household in England, Wales and Scotland £1,000 a year on future bills.

The same level of support will also be provided to Northern Ireland, where a separate energy market operates.

The policy will be enacted through emergency legislation and builds on the £400 payment to households set out by former chancellor Rishi Sunak earlier this year.

A six-month scheme for businesses, schools and hospitals will also provide equivalent support over the winter, with further targeted support for specific industries like hospitality set to follow after that, with a review in three months to decide which sectors should benefit.

However, there is currently no cap on energy costs for businesses and a specific figure on support has not been given due to differences in how the wholesale energy market operates compared to the retail market.

The price guarantee will also not affect those on fixed contracts for their energy, but ministers are confident that discounts will be offered to those customers in due course after talks with suppliers.

The move is expected to cost tens of billions and will be funded through more government borrowing, with new Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng set to lay out the expected costs in his fiscal statement later this month.