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Social care funding should not be merged with NHS, minister says

Funding social care should not be taken out of the hands of cash-strapped councils and there is no quick fix for the struggling sector, a Government minister has said.

In an interview with i, Helen Whately said she did not think social care funding should be centralised to mirror the NHS – arguing that local authorities know best what care people need.

She acknowledged there was a “lot of pressure” on councils, but said there “are no easy answers on the funding of social care”.

And Ms Whately, who has been responsible for social care intermittently since 2020, said large-scale reforms “take time to make a difference”.

It comes as the Government announced it was allocating £20m of a social care reform fund to boost a scheme that helps adults in the care system to live in the community.

Earlier this week, a report by health think-tank The King’s Fund called for funding reforms due to rising costs faced by councils with already squeezed budgets.

Ms Whately told i increasing spending on social care had been a “priority”, but pushed back against the suggestion that greater reform of the funding model was needed.

“There’s a lot of pressure on the funding of social care and a lot of pressure on local authority budgets, with competing needs, and also more people in need of care,” she said.

“That’s one reason why we put extra funding into social care – up to £8.6bn over this year and next to support that extra cost. To me that has been a real priority.”

She added that there were “no easy answers on the funding of social care” and said governments “of all colours and over many years have talked about big reforms” to the sector. But she said making it a national system, like the NHS, was not the answer.

She added: “I have heard people make all sorts of arguments for ‘let’s do social care differently and combine social care with the NHS’. Actually I am a real supporter of the role local authorities play in social care.

“And a lot of social care is very different from health care. It’s a lot to do with relationships and supporting people to live their lives independently, very different from what you experienced at a hospital. So, actually, I’m a real supporter of local authorities who best understand the needs of their communities.”

Challenged on the fact that the Conservative Government has had 14 years to improve the sector, she said “ambitious reforms” take time.

“I think nobody would suggest that it was easy and that is why these long conversations have taken place, irrespective of parties and governments. The reforms we are doing to social care right now are really ambitious, but really ambitious reforms take time to make a difference,” she said.

She cited Government plans to improve nationwide regulation of individual care providers as well as making being a carer a more attractive career prospect.

The Government today announced that it was investing £20m of its Accelerating Reform Fund to expand community care such as the Shared Lives service.

Shared lives matches people aged 16 and older with approved carers to live with either long-term or stay with for short breaks away from their permanent homes.

The scheme allows adults with care needs more freedom and independence and prevents them from being in potentially inappropriate residential care services.

Ms Whately announced the funding allocation on a visit to the home of a Shared Lives carer in Oxfordshire.

She met with a carer, Sarah, who hosts three residents – Jill, Sammy and Ruth – on a temporary basis to give them a “holiday” and time away from their usual homes.

Sarah got involved in the scheme in 2020 after her children moved out and she had spare rooms in her house. She said doing so had expanded her family and been incredibly rewarding.

Ewan King, CEO of Shared Lives Plus, said he was “delighted” by the funding. “More people who draw on social care needs will have the opportunity to experience the life-changing experience of living or regularly visiting a loving home, in their local community,” he said.

The fund overall will help support unpaid carers across various local authorities by investing in other schemes as well as Shared Lives.

One will see the expansion of a digital tool to help carers identify local support. Another, in West Yorkshire, will use the funding to connect hospitality and leisure businesses with unpaid carers so they can donate holidays and experiences.

Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said the investment was “urgently required for unpaid carers who are incredibly stretched, and in need of further support to better manage their personal health and wellbeing, finances and to juggle work and caring responsibilities”.

She said: “We hope Government is able to continue to support successful projects locally to ensure that unpaid carers can continue to benefit from effective models of support.”

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