A SOCIAL care champion has called for an urgent Welsh Government inquiry into a massive North-South divide in care home fees.
According to Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales (CFW), the difference in the amount paid by local authorities for the care of individual residents can be more than £10,000 a year per person.
An investigation carried out by CFW has revealed the rates paid for residential care by the six councils in North Wales are the lowest in Wales.
Mr Kreft is so concerned about the seriousness of the situation that he’s written to North Wales Minister Lesley Griffiths MS, urging her to launch an official inquiry to establish the cause of the disparity.
He said the ‘chronic underfunding’ is discriminatory to older people in North Wales, and claimed it is ‘further evidence of the ingrained institutional prejudice’ endured by independent sector care homes in their dealings with local government.
Mr Kreft says the daily rate of just over £100 paid in North Wales for residential care is a lot less than the £123 a day councillors can claim in expenses while on council business.
In addition to being ‘unjust and unfair’, Care Forum Wales believes the fees paid in North Wales are also unlawful because they do not reflect the true cost of providing care as they are required to do.
As the First Minister had acknowledged, the social care sector was financially ‘very fragile’ before the pandemic struck, and it is in an even more precarious position now, said Mr Kreft.
Recent months have seen the closure of four care homes in North Wales, resulting in the combined loss of more than 160 beds.
Mr Kreft said: “The current position has been brought about by political decisions over a number of years including the use of a deeply flawed fee calculating methodology which has been aimed at paying independent providers the lowest possible fees that local authorities could get away with.
“Workforce issues, including recruitment and retention of suitable candidates, remains a massive challenge for the sector, and the single most important factor is that of the terms and conditions of those working in social care.
“There is a direct correlation between the irresponsibly low fees paid by local authorities and the wages paid to front line staff because councils are effectively setting the pay rates.
“It has become increasingly difficult to compete with other sectors in the economy who are able to offer significantly better terms and conditions.
“The NHS is also a major competitor and continues to recruit mercilessly some of the best care home staff in the sector.
“It is with great disappointment therefore that, as we begin to emerge from a global pandemic, the weekly national celebration of social care workers on a Thursday evening appears to no longer resonate or have meaning in our county halls across the region.
“To its great credit, Welsh Government provided significant support to the social care sector during the pandemic and more recently has ensured that social care workers should receive a minimum of the real living wage, which is now set at £10.90 per hour.
“This has been an important step in the right direction; however, recruitment and retention remain at critical levels in some care homes, and we have some members who have reduced admissions because they simply do not have the staff to care for any more residents.
“This is not the managed market local government was given the responsibility for all those years ago.
“There is now little choice for most care providers than to require extra supplements to the fees paid by local authorities, and these can often only be gained from the individuals themselves or their families.
“In effect, the policies adopted in North Wales are tantamount to imposing a stealth tax on families that are already hard pressed in terms of the current economic climate.
“It is therefore with disappointment that during the period of the creation of the Welsh Parliament, North Wales has continually slipped further and further behind in terms of care home fees having been amongst the highest fees in Wales in the early 2000s.
“Can this situation possibly be fair and sustainable as a 50-bed care home in North Wales could receive over £500,000 less income per annum than its counterpart in the South?
“Despite the excellent guidance that was funded by the Welsh Government and co-produced by a number of stakeholders, the ‘Let’s Agree to Agree’ Toolkit, published in 2018, has been largely ignored in North Wales.
“Councils have openly admitted that no consultation with providers has taken place. Denbighshire is a point of fact.
“Instead, local authorities have followed the deeply flawed North Wales regional approach, using a toolkit that has no credibility whatsoever with care home providers in North Wales.
“In truth their actions are little more than financial abuse of the small and medium enterprises that provide these much-needed care services.
“In recent years, the sector has provided many thousands of people with good quality residential care services to the population of North Wales.
“Providing social care is a statutory responsibility and the law requires local authorities to pay fees that reflect the true cost of providing care. Not to do so is unlawful.
“It’s not just Care Forum Wales saying this. That’s also the legal advice that was given last year to members of Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council where councillors voted for rate increases of between 16 and 22%.”
The Welsh Government was contacted for a comment.