Who’s footing the bill?

Christmas is now a distant memory and I wonder how many of us are sticking to those New Year’s resolutions? Those doing ‘dry’ January or ‘veganuary’ you are a whole 3 weeks in, and whether you are finding it hard to resist temptation or it’s a breeze, 2020 is certainly well under way.

So what do we know of the year before us? Well, Brexit – we are likely to see Royal Assent to the Withdrawal Bill soon – we will be leaving on 31st January and Mr Johnson and his team will then be facing the transition period to get all our ‘ducks in a row’ before the end of December this year – so certainly a busy time. I sincerely hope that doesn’t (continue to) deflect the focus that is needed on our ‘domestic policy’ shall we say.

We heard the announcement loud and clear that the minimum wage is going up on 1st April, this is going up to £8.72 from £8.21, an increase of 6%. I, for one, welcome this increase – it is important that low–paid workers see a rise in their pay packet and we start to see rates of poverty reduce throughout the country. Social Care staffing is critical and the people who support and care for people day and night deserve every penny, and then some.

In social care though, as we have said time and time again, unlike in other sectors, employers cannot simply absorb the increasing workforce costs by adding 50p or so on to a cup of coffee or whatever, social care employers are left with that same sinking feeling – where is that increase going to come from, who’s footing the bill?

Yet again the case is being made by sector bodies and representatives, like us, that commissioning rates also need to go up on 1st April. The issue remains of course that most Local Authorities are strapped for cash too, so we are knocking on Mr Johnson’s black shiny door – central government are key in this.

I know a number of organisations that are already paying above minimum wage and in some cases will still be paying above this new improved rate when it comes in, so it’s not so much of an obvious problem. In their case though the big issue is the knock on effect on differentials between support staff and seniors or Team Leaders. The sector has enough trouble recruiting and retaining staff and this just makes it worse. There are 122,000 vacancies in the sector in any one-day and with EU nationals considering their position, the sector could lose a ‘chunk’ more – both Poland and Romania have offered financial incentives for their citizens to return and with uncertainty still in some peoples minds it could be the draw card back.

Remember in his first speech Mr Johnson pledged to “Fix social care” – well it seems that is a bit of a longer-term aspiration. I was disappointed to hear that the Prime Minister is looking to ‘fix it’ within this parliament, so within 5 years. I agree the whole system needs to be looked at from future funding, commissioning, market sustainability, to quality and innovation, accessibility and keeping people well for longer, however I feel Boris is popping this on the back burner (yet again). It’s time for action. Many of us know what needs to change, develop, stop/start so let’s crack on and tackle this once and for all. We are supposed to be seeing a plan this year, let’s hope it’s not as mythical as the green paper of 2017.

Lisa Lenton
ARC England Director
21st January 2020