Social care leaders have welcomed news that previously-pledged investment in the sector will go towards helping with recruitment and retention of staff but said major reform is still needed to properly address remaining challenges.
The Government said the £600 million funding will support the social care workforce and boost capacity, therefore supporting the NHS ahead of winter and into next year.
The investment includes a £570 million workforce fund over two years, distributed to local authorities, and £30 million funding for local authorities in what the Department of Health and Social Care described as “the most challenged health systems”.
The funding will work alongside the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, the department said, “to build a stronger overall foundation for the health and social care workforce”.
The Government was criticised for saying earlier this year that social care workforce funding would be halved from a previously pledged £500 million – a move branded a betrayal by charities, unions and opposition parties.
But the Government insisted no funding for the adult social care sector had been removed or reallocated to the NHS and said the remaining £600 million had simply “not yet been allocated”.
Confirming the investment on Friday, care minister Helen Whately said the latest announcement shows the Government is “backing our brilliant care workforce with millions in extra funding”.
She said: “Our workforce reforms will help more people pursue rewarding careers in social care with nationally recognised qualifications. Our investment in social care means more funding to go to the front line. This matters, because support for our care workforce is the key to more care and better care.
“A stronger social care system, hand in hand with our NHS, will help people get the care they need, when and where they need it.”
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said the funding will help with the challenges faced in winter, and “will bring relief to disabled and older adults, their families and carers, who rely on care and support services to live their lives”.
ADASS president Beverley Tarka said the Government had listened to calls from directors and others in adult social care to make resources available earlier to support planning for winter.
She said: “By announcing this funding now, guaranteeing the funding over two years and giving councils flexibility to spend it where it will make the most difference, the Government is putting us in a much better place than last year, when funding came too late, while we were already in the middle of a winter crisis.”
She said the funding could be used by councils to invest in providing more care at home so people do not need to go into hospital, which could help to reduce waiting lists for care.
She added: “Directors of adult social care like me will sleep better knowing we have more resources to go towards meeting the ever-increasing need for social care.”
She said the funding “won’t solve all these problems over the long-term, but it will help stabilise the situation and help us address the challenges this winter”.
The Local Government Association said it was “pleased to see that the Government has listened to councils and has protected this money” but added that “secure long-term funding and a comprehensive plan for reform remain vital” for the future.
The Nuffield Trust said social care had too often been raided to pay off other budgets, and branded the decision to keep the previously promised pot of money and to prioritise care workers as “the right decision”.
Nuffield Trust fellow Camille Oung said: “This will offer some of the much-needed stability that could allow staff to be hired on decent conditions for the long term.
“At the same time, we cannot be sure that this funding alone will meet the depth of the problem after years of neglect. Care workers are now facing soaring prices on the back of a decade of often poor pay and conditions.
“A comprehensive programme of reform is needed so that we have a stable, thriving workforce whose terms and conditions attract the growing numbers we need over the coming decades.”
Simon Bottery, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, said the £600 million “will offer some relief to hard-pressed local authorities and some of the money should feed through to struggling social care providers and staff, and therefore improve the care people receive”.
But he added: “Clearly, however, this is not the properly funded workforce plan that social care needs.”
He said the need for reform in the sector “will not go away” and insisted that “if a new government, of whatever colour, wants to ensure people get the social care they need, they will need to set out a genuine plan for change”.
Age UK said it is “welcome indeed that Government, local authorities and the NHS are already thinking ahead and making plans to support services through the winter months and beyond”.
The charity’s director, Caroline Abrahams, added: “Getting good care to everyone who needs it, when they need it, means we need sustainable services that can recruit, train and retain the staff they need – so getting additional support out to the front line, supporting services on to a more stable footing in time for winter, has to be a priority.”