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Little to suggest that social care has turned a corner

2022/23 saw a possible change to a recent trend in publicly funded adult social care. Since 2015/16, more people have been asking for social care support but fewer people have been getting it. But in 2022/23, while more people again asked for support (see indicator 1, requests for support), there was a 2% increase in those who received it compared to 2021/22.

Was this the start of a new trend of more people getting publicly funded social care support?

There are reasons to be very cautious about drawing this conclusion: it is more likely that the upturn in 2022/23 was largely a ‘correction’ after the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic, rather than a fundamental change in the long-term trend.  

Covid-19 had a significant impact on the pattern of social care demand, commissioning and delivery, with initially fewer people asking for services but then a sharp increase in requests for support as the pandemic eased. However, there was less local authority capacity to carry out assessments and less service availability (partly driven by increasing staff vacancies), leading to increasing waiting lists. As a result, the number of people receiving care fell sharply in 2020/21 and, particularly, in 2021/22.

ompared to 2015/16, more people in England are requesting social care support but fewer people are receiving it

 In 2022/23, however, service availability was returning to normal, staff vacancies fell (see indicator 7, vacancies) and local authorities were beginning to tackle the backlog of assessments and reviews. This may best explain the increase in people receiving publicly funded social care in 2022/23.

And even with that increase, it is important to note that in 2022/23, 2% fewer people were receiving support than in 2015/16, despite 11% more people requesting it. Indeed, this longer-term perspective shows a social care sector that is still under intense pressure, characterised by:

  • a continued contraction in eligibility to receive care, with financial thresholds not having changed since 2010/11

  • the cost to local authorities of purchasing care continuing to increase faster than inflation

  • the social care workforce vacancy rate still at its second highest-ever level, despite the arrival of around 70,000 overseas workers

  • fewer unpaid carers receiving direct support, and fewer people receiving respite care, than in 2015/16.

There is nothing here to suggest that social care has turned a corner.

Within the next 12 months voters will go to the polls in the UK general election, and as The King’s Fund has argued, if the next government wants to ‘fix’ social care, it will need to:

  • increase funding to stabilise the sector and enable providers to attract, retain and train the staff needed to meet demand

  • implement funding and eligibility reforms to make the system fairer

  • undertake reforms to improve quality and outcomes.


Expenditure and providers

Workforce and carers

  • 7. Vacancies
  • 8. pay
  • 9. Carers


Data and methodology

With thanks to