The owners of Birmingham’s independent sector care homes are right to complain about the meanness of the £49.34 a day they receive from city council social services to look after a frail elderly person. The one per cent increase the council is offering is neither here nor there; the fact remains that £345 a week to provide a warm, safe and stimulating environment for someone suffering from dementia hardly verges on generosity.
And just to rub salt into an open wound, the council pays itself getting on for twice as much to look after elderly people in its own public sector homes. The difference between the two rates has never been properly explained, save for some council waffle about overheads and accounting measures.
Social services officials will no doubt claim that the increase – one per cent now and one per cent in October – is in line with inflation. But it is precisely because inflation is so low that the council could have begun the process of moving toward paying the home owners a decent rate by budgeting for an increase of, say, six per cent, which coincidentally is the additional amount the council thinks it is right to pay to maintain residents in its own homes.
Instead of that, the as ever cash-strapped adults and communities department appears to have indulged in a practice that the home owners have likened to blackmail. This amounts to an invitation to sign a four-year contract, with no guarantee of fees increases beyond this year, combined with an implicit threat that the council will no longer place clients with homes refusing to accept this arrangement.
The dangers attached to this approach are all too obvious. If the owners are right, and they simply cannot afford to provide a service for the amount the council is prepared to pay, then more and more independent homes are likely to go out of business. And since the council is busily engaged in closing its own residential homes, provision will simply cease to exist for the hundreds of elderly people that face moving into care each year.
The knock-on effect for hospitals is likely to be disastrous, as wards begin to fill up with patients who are not well enough to be discharged to their own home but cannot be found residential accommodation.
It is no exaggeration to say that relations between the council and the home owners are at rock bottom – and that is quite a claim to make, given the lengthy and torrid history of this dispute.
Is it too much to hope that the council can begin to deliver the pledge it made several years ago to increase care home funding to a sensible level?