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Social care needs an immediate cash injection and new recruits to support its exhausted workforce and ensure that vital services for older people, disabled people, families and carers do not collapse as the COVID-19 pandemic hits a new peak, social services leaders are warning.

According to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), alarming gaps are appearing in social care teams through COVID infection, self-isolation and sheer fatigue.

The sector had existing vacancies of 112,000 prior to the pandemic, it says, and is being expected to ease the strain on the NHS by supporting people discharged from hospital to free up beds.  It is calling for extra funding this week to pay for additional staff and care.

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ADASS is also issuing an urgent plea for anyone with experience of care work to consider returning to the job to help the care sector get through the coming weeks.

James Bullion, President of ADASS, said: “Like our NHS colleagues, social care workers have never been under such pressure. They are doing more than ever before, but absences are high and rising and our capacity to keep vital services going is at grave risk.

“We need funding, now, to enable care providers to recruit extra skilled pairs of hands and we are asking anyone who has done care work in the past to think very seriously about returning to help us get through this. Every single person who steps forward will be making a huge contribution.”

ADASS has asked for an additional £480 million in England to increase the provision of care at home for older and disabled people so that they can live independently, with good support, and can be kept out of hospital for as long as possible.

The association is also seeking extra help for family carers who are providing the most intense support for loved ones. It says an extra direct payment of £50 a week for carers during the worst of the pandemic to enable them to pay for respite breaks and keep going until the pandemic eases.

With news that a major supermarket chain, Morrisons, is to pay its staff a minimum of £10 an hour from April, when many care workers are only paid £8.91, ADASS is urging a major overhaul of pay and conditions for care workers.

ADASS is calling for a national care wage of at least £10.90 and significant investment in training and creation of career paths to put social care work on a par with that in the NHS.

James said: “The extraordinary courage and dedication shown by our 1.5 million care workers during the COVID-19 crisis must be recognised. The pandemic has opened people’s eyes to the essential contribution they make to our society for such relatively low reward.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unique pressures on local authorities. Earlier this month it was reported that the UK government is proposing to make available an additional £1 billion for social care for 2021/22, which includes a £300 million boost to the Social Care Grant to a total of £1.71 billion.

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