Around 600 people every day join growing waiting lists to be assessed for social care and support in England, council figures suggest.
Unprecedented numbers of people who need help at home, hospital patients and unpaid carers are waiting months for assessments and longer for vital care, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) said.
The organization said a combination of increased demand, people seeking help with more complex conditions and a shortage of social workers were behind the “enormous” waiting lists.
Falling council budgets as a result of austerity, fewer staff due to Brexit, burnout and feeling undervalued post-Covid, and the reopening of alternative economies such as retail and hospitality have also played a role.
Council care managers feel they are unable to pay providers enough to give care workers what they deserve is “collectively devaluing” the elderly and disabled.
Adass has monitored the number of people waiting for social assistance, assessments and reviews regularly since November.
There is a real sense that by not paying staff well enough in fact, we are collectively devaluing older and disabled people with care and support needs so that they come second to everyone else.
Cathie Williams, Adass
Some 83 out of 152 councils surveyed responded to the latest count and Adass extrapolated the figures to arrive at national estimates.
About 294,449 people were awaiting assessments as of April 30, up 44.2% in five months, the data, shared with the PA news agency, suggests.
This is an increase of 90,208 since November – equivalent to 600 more people every day on average.
Of these, it is estimated that a quarter (73,792 people) have waited longer than six months (up 79.1% from 41,192 in November).
And an estimated 37,447 people are waiting for care, or for direct payments to start arranging care, an increase of 47% over the same time period.
Overall, more than half a million people (542,002) are estimated to be waiting for assessments, assessments or care to start, up 36.9% from 395,845 in November.
The membership organization warned that people are suffering at home without the right support in place, while some are dying alone.
Family members are being forced to give up work to care for their loved ones as their needs increase, raising fears that poverty among such families will increase as the cost of living crisis deepens while relatives receive a “grossly inadequate” care allowance.
The backlog is already putting extra pressure on the NHS, with people having to go into hospital after getting worse at home.
And those who are ready to be discharged from hospital face long waits for social assistance packages to be arranged that will allow them to live safely in their own homes.
Adass said he is hearing concerns from employers who say they can’t recruit employees or are losing them as people care for family members full-time.
The recent research found that more people are asking for help due to pressures on the health system, a lack of community services and breakdowns in unpaid care arrangements.
The body is calling for an urgent injection of funds – echoing calls made earlier on Thursday by the House of Commons’ Leveling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, which said the “ravaged” sector needs money before the end of the year.
Adass chief executive Cathie Williams told the PA that social care bosses are “really scared of this winter” and “can’t see a way out” without government investment.
They believe the “extremely poor” pay of care workers is an injustice to staff and those they support.
She continued: “There is a real sense that by not paying staff well enough in fact, we are collectively devaluing older and disabled people with care and support needs so that they come second to everyone else.”
Carers UK said family members are providing more care than they were during the height of the pandemic and will not be able to cope unless more funding is invested in social care services.
Chief executive Helen Walker said: “Amid the cost of living crisis, the huge differences in support are affecting the ability of thousands to stay in work and pay their rising bills.
“Too many are being pushed further into poverty.
“With hundreds of thousands of people now waiting for an assessment or service, sustainable funding of social care is vital.”
The growing waiting lists for a care assessment are creating misery for older people and their families and are the clearest possible proof that our social care system is unable to cope.
Caroline Abrahams, Age UK
Age UK said it is “very concerned” that so many people are waiting for “just the first step in what could be quite a lengthy process”.
Older people waiting alone, without family or friends to step in, will not be able to keep themselves safe and will end up in hospital as a result, warned charity director Caroline Abrahams.
“The growing waiting lists for a care assessment are creating misery for older people and their families and are the clearest possible demonstration that our social care system is failing to cope,” she said.
“One of the biggest problems is the lack of care workers to look after older people in their own homes and there is an urgent need for the Government to improve the terms and conditions of these jobs as they have become uncompetitive in recent years.”
The Department of Health and Social Care did not say when asked whether it would provide immediate funding to help councils deal with the backlog.
A spokesman said: “We have made it clear that adult social care reform is a priority for this Government and are investing £5.4 billion over three years.
“This includes £3.6 billion to reform the social care charging system and enable all local authorities to move towards paying providers a fair care cost, and a further £1.7 billion to start major improvements across social care for adults in England.
“We value everything our incredible care workforce does and to ensure they are supported we are providing at least £500 million to invest in and develop the workforce.”