The boss of a Lynn-based care firm has claimed the sector is at crisis point and called on the Government to do far more to support providers.
Mark von Haartman, managing director of the Care Company UK, based in Norfolk Street, delivered the warning during a visit by North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham.
He fears that the introduction of the new national living wage in April, together with rising service demand, is increasing the pressure, particularly on small firms like his.
He said: “This country is facing a crisis in social care.
“If we don’t find a solution soon then many of our elderly and vulnerable citizens will be left without the day-to-day support they need to survive.
“This will cost the Government and local authorities a great deal in the long run because they will be forced to step in to meet this need directly.”
Plans for a new national living wage, which will be set at £7.20 per hour for workers over 25, up on the current minimum £6.50 per hour, were first set out in last summer’s budget.
But the move was swiftly questioned by the care sector over the potential implications for services.
There have even been suggestions that providers could initially try to recoup the costs from councils.
And, while the Care Company’s staff already receive a higher hourly rate than that, Mr von Haartman is concerned many similar companies will be forced to the wall.
He pointed to a recent survey by the United Kingdom Homecare Association, the body which represents care providers, in which more than 40 per cent of respondents said they feared they would have to close altogether within a year.
And 70 per cent said they would not seek council contracts because they did not believe the deals would be financially viable for them.
He is also unconvinced the measure will help to attract new recruits into the profession.
He said: “The living wage will be the new minimum wage and it will apply to all occupations and so, unfortunately, many people will still prefer to take a job on the checkout at Tesco than come to work for us.”
The comments were also made as county councillors prepare to vote next week on a proposed budget that includes a near four per cent council tax rise.
If approved as it is currently proposed, just over half of the increase will be ringfenced for social care, in line with ministers’ decision to allow councils responsible for care services to raise the tax by two per cent specifically for that purpose.
But Mr von Haartman pointed out that the care sector is given a fraction of the funding the NHS receives each year.
“There just isn’t enough money to go around”, he said.
“Local authorities who pay for the majority of social care in this country cannot afford to meet the “true cost” of care.
“In their efforts to save costs they drive the cost of care down so that only large national care providers can afford to bid for local authority contracts.
“So please Sir Henry, help to secure the funding we need to continue to provide this vital service and to pay our carers appropriately for the essential work that they do.”