The archbishop of York has called for checks on “unscrupulous people making profit inappropriately” from social care, as the Church of England launched a sweeping plan to change how vulnerable people are looked after.
Stephen Cottrell told the Guardian he was “really concerned” about care company owners taking multimillion pound dividends while delivering substandard care, at the launch of a new vision for social care. Cottrell commissioned the plan alongside the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who also spoke at the launch at the Quaker Friends House in London and said he wanted to “rebuild something broken”.
Asked about multimillion-pound salaries drawn by some care company bosses who provide care that is deemed inadequate or requires improvement, Cottrell said: “I imagine there will be a place for public and private partnerships but we do need some checks and balances, to put it mildly, where clearly unscrupulous people [are] making profit inappropriately while not providing the care that is needed. There needs to be proper scrutiny and oversight of all of that.”
About 80% of paid-for care is delivered by for-profit organisations, some of which have generated substantial profits at a time when low pay has contributed to more than 165,000 vacancies and a rise in the number of care homes rated inadequate by inspectors last year compared with before the Covid pandemic.
Last week, the Guardian reported how the owner of Runwood Homes, a chain of 60 care homes, drew at least £15m in salary and dividends from the company in just five years. Barchester, one of the largest care home chains, awarded its highest paid director £3.2m over 2020-21.
The archbishops’ commission on reimagining England’s social care system called for tax rises to fund a new NHS-style universal social care system that could cost an extra £15bn a year. The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, the care minister Helen Whately, and the shadow care minister Liz Kendall, have been briefed on its conclusions. The government responded saying it was “working with a range of stakeholders on how best to improve adult social care” and was planning to publish a two-year plan for changes this spring.
The archbishops, alongside council social services bosses and care workers, want longer-term change. Cottrell criticised “muddling along as we are with sticking plasters over problems here, there and everywhere”. He said this was “costing an awful lot more, not just financially, but in people’s lives that are not flourishing in the way that they can be”.
Asked if the archbishops’ vision of a new care system would allow for-profit providers to continue to dominate the sector, Cottrell said: “It should be led and dominated by the right values and then you work out how to deliver it.”
Asked if taking multimillion pound-dividends was the right values, he said: “I am really concerned about that, and that clearly needs to be part of the conversation.”
Care England, which represents some of the largest private care companies, has previously argued that in many cases companies are struggling with low fees paid by councils for social care beds and has urged the government to provide more funding.
Martin Green, its chief executive, said on Tuesday that international investors had a right to seek returns on their investment in UK care homes and challenged the Church of England to invest some of its own money into the care system.
Welby said: “There is an opportunity for change, to rebuild something broken into something much better – to reimagine.”
The archbishops’ plan proposes a new national care covenant – similar to the armed forces covenant in which the nation commits to the fair treatment of people who have undertaken military service – setting out the rights and responsibilities of national and local governments, communities, families and citizens.
In a reference to the political churn that has sidelined several previous attempts at change, Welby remarked that the government review was commissioned “two prime ministers and four health secretaries ago”.
He said the proposals were an attempt to “reverse the usual political question: what do we spend our money on?” and instead ask “what are our values for the society and country we seek in the world in which we live? And how do we finance it over the long term?”