The cost of unmet demand in social care

30 May 2018

  • Social care spending per capita in England was at its highest point in 2009/10.
  • Funding then fell by 11% over the next 6 years to 2015/16, while recent projections estimate demand pressures to grow at 3.7% per year.
  • If this growth rate is crudely applied to the 2009/10 levels of access and quality the projected funding shortfall in 2030/31 is estimated to be £9.4bn compared to projections from 2015/16 levels of access and care.

In a recent report it was estimated that social care spending pressures would grow at 3.7% per year to 2030/31: based on current estimates of the budget for social care this would leave a £6.1bn funding gap. These projections implicitly assume that social care access and quality remains at the levels of 2015/16 (the most recent years of data).

The projected pressures, increasing elderly population and likelihood of living longer with chronic illness, have been persistent, and were certainly present in 2009/10 and since. Social care spending in England was at its peak in 2009/10 at £349 per capita (OnlyWan analysis of NHS Digital: Personal Social Services: Expenditure and Unit Costs, England). Attempts to reduce spending meant a drawdown of social care budgets in England over that period .

There is a strong argument that continuing to meet these pressures will still leave a high level of unmet need, and risk a collapse of the provider sector. Even if the model of funding is not changed, additional funding over and above 3.7% is likely to be required to return to the level of access and quality provided in 2009/10. The estimated additional cost in 2030/31 is £9.4bn, this is over half of the current budget of social care.

Cost pressures on social care are large, there is no question of that. However, allowing budgets to fall behand those pressures could prove still more costly in the future.


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