On 30 November 2017 the Competition and Market Authority (CMA) released its final report after a year-long study into the care home market. And what it concluded is both damning yet not surprising to those who have had any dealings with residential care. They found a market that’s not working well for care home residents and one that’s seriously underfunded – two points Independent Age made as part of our engagement with the consultation.
Now there’s the question of what needs to happen in order for us to see positive change in the market, one that is lacking in some basic consumer protections within a space where consumers are particularly vulnerable. For example, unlike in the housing market, deposits are not protected against insolvency, nor do care home residents have security of tenure – they can be asked to leave at short notice.
In addition to calling for more government investment, the CMA outline a number of potential remedies, some key ones being:
- That the government work alongside the NHS, local authorities, providers and the third sector to deliver a sweep of actions to help people make good decisions about their care, including to plan early;
- That an independent body provide oversight of the planning and support provided at the local authority level, advise central government on the true costs of care, and facilitate transparency on social care provision;
- That regulators, such as the Care Quality Commission (the body that inspects and rates care homes in England) also look at commercial practices and report on aspects such as price and contract terms and how complaints are handled.
What the CMA recommends is not pie in the sky stuff – they are practical and relatively straight-forward remedies to fix a system that’s long been failing many of those who need it.
It should not be too much to require care homes to disclose accurate information about fees, and terms and conditions so that people can make accurate comparisons; to ask the sector to develop model contracts so that they’re clear and fair; and to require local authorities to provide clear information on how the care system works and support decision making. These are things that should already be happening as a matter of course, but in many cases, simply aren’t.
The government has 90 days from the release date to respond. It’s not sufficient for them to simply state that a social care green paper is due out in summer 2018. To do so would be a dereliction of responsibility to those who currently suffer the shortcomings in social care detailed in the report. The government must, therefore, commit to specific action to improve things now. The CMA has done the leg work and we don’t need any more calls for discussions on what we already know are issues facing care home residents and the sector as a whole without them going anywhere meaningful. We owe it to care home residents and older people who will move into care in the future to tackle the systemic failings in social care as a matter of urgency.