Older people avoided social care service during the first and second wave of the pandemic

Covid-19 had a significant impact on older people approaching local authorities for social care support, according to a new report by The King’s Fund.

32,000 fewer new requests for support from older people were made during 2020/21 as they avoided contact with social care services during the pandemic. However, more working age adults made requests during the year, continuing a trend that has seen an increase of 15% in the number of working age adults requesting support since figures were first collected in 2015/16.

Overall, there was a small, 3,000 increase in the number of people receiving long-term care in 2020/21, though there was a larger 12,000 fall in the number receiving short-term ‘reablement’ type care intended to help people regain their independence.

The pandemic also led to a sharp rise in local authority spending on social care to help keep the sector afloat, but the report’s authors show that, while welcome, the government funding for this was short-term and time-limited. Overall, the annual assessment shows that the sector remains under immense pressure, with a number of worrying long-term trends.

Social care staff vacancies fell early on in the pandemic but have now begun to rise and in January 2022 nearly one in every 10 roles was vacant. Care worker pay has increased but it continues to fare badly compared to other roles such as cleaners and catering assistants. Also, the report found that fewer older people are now receiving publicly funded long-term care, with numbers down 6% (36,000) since 2015/16. When population size is taken into account, there has been a large fall in older people receiving long-term care and a small fall in working-age adults.

“This new analysis shows the profound effects of the pandemic on adult social care and the people who use its services,” said The King’s Fund senior fellow Simon Bottery. “It is understandable that fewer older people came forward for services, given the huge impact of Covid-19, but it is worrying that many people may have been struggling to cope and that this unmet need may create additional pressure on services now and in the future.

“Overall, the report paints a picture of a social care sector still struggling to tackle not just the pandemic but the years of neglect that preceded it,” he added. “The government’s recent White Paper is a step in the right direction, but it does little to deal with some of the most immediate problems like unmet need, underfunding and workforce. These remain in urgent need of attention.’

“The introduction of changes to the means test and a cap on lifetime care costs are just one part of the reform that social care desperately needs. Even here, it is deeply disappointing that the government wants to introduce changes that will leave people with low levels of wealth exposed to very high care costs and, in many cases still needing to sell their home to pay for their care. We hope this change is rejected as the legislation makes its way through the House of Lords.”

Date Published: March 1, 2022