Around 600 people every day are joining growing waiting lists to be assessed for social care and support in England, figures from councils suggest.
Unprecedented numbers of people needing help at home, hospital patients and unpaid carers are waiting months for assessments and longer for vital care, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) said.
The organisation said a combination of increased demand, people seeking help with more complex conditions, and a lack of social care staff is behind the “enormous” waiting lists.
Dwindling council budgets as a result of austerity, fewer staff due to Brexit, burnout and feeling undervalued after Covid, and the reopening of alternative economies such as retail and hospitality have also played a part.
Council care leads feel their inability to pay providers enough to give care workers what they deserve is “collectively devaluing” older and disabled people.
Adass has been tracking the number of people waiting for social care, assessments and reviews regularly since November.
Some 83 out of 152 councils surveyed responded to its latest count, with Adass extrapolating the figures to reach national estimates.
Some 294,449 people were waiting for assessments as of April 30, up 44.2% in five months, the data, shared with the PA news agency, suggests.
This is an increase of 90,208 since November – the equivalent of 600 more people every day on average.
Of these, it estimates a quarter (73,792 people) have been waiting longer than half a year (up 79.1% from 41,192 in November).
And an estimated 37,447 people are waiting for care, or for direct payments so they can start to arrange their care, up 47% over the same time period.
Overall, more than half a million people (542,002) are estimated to be waiting for assessments, reviews or care to start, up 36.9% from 395,845 in November.
The membership organisation warned that people are suffering at home without the right support in place, while some are dying alone.
Family members are being forced to give up their jobs to care for their loved ones as their needs increase, prompting fears that poverty among such families will rise as the cost-of-living crisis deepens while relatives receive a “completely inadequate” carers’ allowance.
The backlogs are already leading to extra pressure on the NHS, with people needing to go into hospital after deteriorating at home.
And those who are ready to be discharged from hospital face lengthy waits for social care packages to be arranged which would allow them to live safely in their own homes.
Adass said it is hearing concerns from employers who say they cannot recruit staff or are losing them as people care full-time for family members.
Its recent research found that more people are requesting help due to pressures in the health system, a lack of community services and breakdowns of unpaid carer arrangements.
The body is calling for an urgent injection of funds – echoing calls made earlier on Thursday by the House of Commons’ Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, which said the “ravaged” sector needs cash before the year is out.
Adass chief executive Cathie Williams told PA that social care bosses are “really fearful for this winter” and “can’t see a way out” without Government investment.
They believe the “extremely poor” wages of care workers are an injustice to staff and those they support.
She continued: “There’s a real feeling that by not paying staff well enough actually we’re collectively devaluing older and disabled people with care and support needs, so they come second to everybody else.”
Carers UK said family members are providing more care than they were during the height of the pandemic, and will be unable to cope unless more funding is invested in social care services.
Chief executive Helen Walker said: “Amidst the cost-of-living crisis, the large gaps in support are affecting the ability of thousands to stay in work and pay their rising bills.
“Too many are being pushed further into poverty.
“With hundreds of thousands of people now waiting for an assessment or service, sustainable funding for social care is essential.”
Age UK said it is “very concerned” that so many people are waiting for “just the first step in what can be quite a lengthy process”.
Older people waiting alone, without family or friends to step in, will not be able to stay safe and will end up in hospital as a result, charity director Caroline Abrahams warned.
“The growing waiting lists for a care assessment spell misery for older people and their families and are the clearest possible demonstration that our social care system is failing to cope,” she said.
“One of the biggest problems is a lack of care staff to look after older people in their own homes and there is an urgent need for Government to improve the terms and conditions for these jobs as they have become uncompetitive over the last few years.”
The Department of Health and Social Care did not say, when asked, whether it would provide immediate funding to help councils address the backlogs.
A spokesman said: “We have made it clear that reforming adult social care is a priority for this Government and are investing £5.4 billion over three years.
“This includes £3.6 billion to reform the social care charging system and enable all local authorities to move towards paying providers a fair cost of care, and a further £1.7 billion to begin major improvements across adult social care in England.
“We appreciate all that our incredible care workforce do and, to ensure they are supported, we are providing at least £500 million to invest in and develop the workforce.”
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