Thinktank calls for independent body to oversee care market

The social care system in England must be overhauled to function as a genuine and fair market, according to the Social Market Foundation (SMF) thinktank.

A SMF report, ‘A market for residential care services’, argues politicians and officials need to accept that social care in England is provided through a market system, with local councils and self-funded care-users buying services from providers.

That market needs better regulation, the SMF said, urging ministers to create a new independent body to oversee care, setting rules for the minimum cost of care and identifying areas where an imbalance of demand and supply leads to unfair outcomes.

The SMF paper follows up on a 2017 market investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority, which recommended the creation of an independent body to oversee the care market.

The report highlights how different purchasers of care services pay different prices, partly depending on their bargaining power.

On average, wealthier care-users who fund their own care - known as self-funders - pay much more for care than local authorities who buy care for less wealthy users.

Self-funders pay 41 per cent more for their care per week than local authorities, equivalent to £236.

The SMF said that raises concerns about the future supply of care and urged ministers to act to ensure a better-functioning market for care, by giving the Care Quality Commission (CQC) new powers to oversee the market.

The report, sponsored by Bupa, recommends the CQC should be given four new tasks to deliver a better market in care: national guidelines for the minimum cost of social care services, demand forecasting, cost of care forecasting, and monitoring levels of competition and concentration in residential care markets at a regional and local level.

“Politicians need to do more to develop and implement policies that will make that market work in the long-term interests of users and the country as a whole. That means giving suppliers more certainty about future demand and prices, to help maintain the long-term supply of care,” said SMF director James Kirkup (pictured).

“There can be good reasons for differences in the rates paid by local councils and self-funders, but if local authorities are in a position to drive prices down, they may end up jeopardising supply by forcing providers out of the market for local-authority funded care,” he added.