Underfunded and overstretched – the crisis in care for the elderly

“It’s like being at home,” was the verdict that one resident at West Hall, a care home in West Byfleet, relayed to inspectors. When you walk through the doors, you can see why. The first thing that strikes a visitor is its immaculate grounds and impressive architecture, which blends a beautifully converted old manor house with three eco-build residential lodges.

But the impressive surroundings fade into the background when you start talking to the people who live and work in West Hall. The warmth and affection that characterise the relationships between staff and residents light up its smart interior, creating a comfortable, homely atmosphere. Arriving on a Thursday lunchtime, I’m introduced to several relatives visiting their parents: Nigel Allen, the home’s manager, stresses they are welcomed with open arms. There’s a huge range of activities to take part in: the day I was there, they included a sing-along, a lunch outing to the local pub and a Scrabble group.

West Hall, run by the not-for-profit Anchor Trust, is not a typical care service. It is one of the few homes to have received an outstanding rating from the regulator. Data provided to the Observer by the Care Quality Commission shows that there are just 91 outstanding care homes in England for the over-65s – less than 1% of those the CQC has inspected under its new regime. Almost one in three have been rated as requiring improvement or as inadequate. The quality of care provided to older people in their own homes is similarly variable.

Another thing that sets West Hall apart is that it doesn’t seem particularly short of resources. Set in a leafy corner of Surrey, where very few older people qualify for state support with the costs of their care, all of its residents are privately funded. Its fees put it at the high end of the market. Walking through its excellent facilities, there’s a sense that money is no object, and there’s one carer for every four residents.

Care homes and homecare agencies that rely at least in part on public funds face a far more straitened set of circumstances. Council funding for adult social care has fallen by 11% on average since 2010, and in some areas by as much as 30%. Cuts to local government funding, together with increasing demand as the population ages, and rising costs as a result of higher regulatory standards and the introduction of the “national living wage”, have created a perfect storm for councils.

The government points to the introduction of the social care precept, a new measure allowing councils to charge an extra 2% on top of their council tax rates to pay for care services from this year. But new analysis by the King’s Fund exclusively for the Observer shows the precept will raise just 3% of what councils are already spending on social care this year. The 10 most affluent areas will raise more than twice as much as the 10 most deprived areas, further widening inequalities in older people’s access to care. Another source of extra funding, the Better Care Fund, will not kick in substantially for another few years.

Full story see The Observer 10 December 2016