Or are we ready to look after our ageing parents ourselves?

Much is being written about the UK’s current key worker staffing crisis, yet headlines focus on potential food shortages. While the sight of empty shelves grab attention, the staffing crisis in social care is being overlooked by mainstream media and the public at large. Hopefully, an upcoming BBC documentary by former labour minister, Ed Balls, will help revive public interest. If Boris Johnson were to feel inclined to follow suit, there is an “oven ready” social care funding solution sitting on a shelf somewhere ready to dust off. Although there seems to be ongoing debate within Government as to the level of taxation needed.

But, if it comes, will it all be too little too late?  The ongoing exodus of care workers and their managers are now forcing closures of home care and care home services, or reducing their capacity, across the UK.  At The Croft we are currently limiting our theoretical capacity of 22 residents to a practical capacity of 17, due mainly to staffing constraints.  At a time when the UK is rapidly ageing and has become less healthy, the supply of professional carers and care institutions is shrinking at an even faster rate.  The problem is recognised by Local Authority directors of social care across the UK, but they are powerless to act and can only help pick up the pieces as care services close.

Hard questions about who will care for our old and vulnerable need urgent attention as social care services shrink.  Will Ed Balls make a difference? Will Boris waken up in time? Getting the media, the public and politicians to pick up the cause of a crisis that doesn’t immediately impact them, seems to be a tough task. In the meantime, the impact on families is already being felt.  Some with vulnerable loved ones are having little choice but to consider the trade-off between going to work and caring for someone who would, in the past, have qualified for social care support.  In many cases the support had been provided by an equally frail spouse.  

As the UK population ages and continues to be less healthy, it’s likely a very high percentage of UK families will have no choice but to look after ailing parents themselves.  In which case, more of the population will be dragged out of full-time economic activity to care for loved ones who are too well to go to hospital, but who can’t afford the pricey private social care which is all that will be left.

Recent research by recruitment site Indeed highlights the depth of the problem for social care providers who are unable to increase wages in-line with the rapid wage inflation now seen in other sectors competing for key workers.  Unless society can find its voice and oblige the government to prioritise social care with an injection of at least £7bn per year, the current crisis will only get worse. This begs the question; who will care for the old and vulnerable? Those of us with ageing parents need to start worrying about how we will provide for their care needs ourselves.

Simon Spiller is co-owner and Registered Provider of The Croft Residential Home in Newton Abbot, Devon, as well as owning other small businesses.  He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Heather Noon is a retired Human Resource professional and a passionate advocate for fair pay. She is a Humanist, Research Associate, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. 

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