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Press Release

WBG responds to the National Audit Office report on Social Care Markets

WBG Director, Dr. Mary-Ann Stephenson calls for urgent, sustainable social care reform to address long-standing neglect and gender inequality.

Responding to the National Audit Office report on Social Care Markets, WBG Director Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson said:

‘The National Audit Office sets out in stark terms the failure of successive Governments to develop a sustainable strategy and secure funding settlement for social care. The need to reform the social care sector is long overdue. Decades of cuts, deregulation and privatisation have left the sector in crisis and ill-equipped to respond adequately to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, those in need of care and those providing care – the majority of whom are women – have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. The crisis in social care exacerbates gender inequality. Women are more likely to need care in old age, more likely to work in the care sector and more likely to provide unpaid care for others. We need a new settlement for social care that provides a stable, sustainable funding base to ensure that rising care needs are met now and into the future. This should take the form of a Universal Care Service that provides locally based residential, domiciliary, and other forms of care, free at the point of delivery and on an equal footing with the NHS.

Investment in care is needed not only to transform our broken social care system, but is also a good way to stimulate employment, reduce both the gender employment and pay gaps and counter the inevitable economic recession as the UK comes out of lockdown

As the NAO report makes clear, the crisis in social care long predates the Covid-19 pandemic. Our own work at WBG has shown that:

  • Deregulation and privatisation have led to a to a care sector that is dominated by private providers focused on increased financial yields and cost minimisation.
  • Funding has been inadequate to address rising needs for decades, and there are increasing geographical inequalities in the social care system.  The NAO report shows that the Department of Health and Social Care ‘acknowledges that most local authorities pay care providers below a sustainable rate but does not use this analysis to challenge local authorities directly’. Local authorities themselves have faced a cut of over 50% in funding from central Government in the last ten years. Income from local taxes, including the increases announced in the 2020 Spending Review, have been insufficient to compensate for these cuts.
  • Staff shortages are high and likely to worsen. Prior to the pandemic, in a workforce of 1.2 million there were 122,000 social care staff vacancies. As the NAO points out the Department of Health and Social Care ‘has not met previous commitments to tackle recruitment and retention challenges for the 1.5 million people who work in care. It has not produced a workforce strategy since 2009, despite committing to do so in 2018’
  • The numbers of unpaid carers have grown steadily over the last two decades and particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the onset of Covid-19 the numbers of unpaid carers have increased by an estimated 4.5 million to over 13.6 million in total and support needs have intensified.

Governments have been promising action on social care for over a decade. It is time for deeds not words.’

For more information see the WBG briefing on social care here

Contact details: Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson Director of UK Women’s Budget Group
Mobile no: 07957 338582
Email address:

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