‘Shaming’ level of misery caused by UK social care uncovered by major survey

<span>Photograph: Alamy</span>
Photograph: Alamy

Dissatisfaction at social care services among those who have had to deal with them has spiralled to “unbelievably distressing” levels, according to Britain’s most comprehensive study of the public’s experiences.

Two-thirds of people who have used or had contact with social care – for themselves or someone else – were dissatisfied, an analysis of the British Social Attitudes survey has revealed.

And among the public as a whole, only one in seven British people are satisfied with social care services, according to the survey, which is regarded as the gold standard for measuring public opinion.

The findings, revealed by leading health thinktanks the Nuffield Trust and the King’s Fund, show that unhappiness has been growing since 2018, and come against a background of continued complaints that the system is underfunded, that low pay makes it difficult to retain staff and that a promised cap on costs has been delayed until after the next election.

Andrew Dilnot, the economist behind the plan to cap social care costs, said the results were “something we should be ashamed of”, and that inaction was causing misery – for people delivering care and for the people who need it.

He told the Observer: “The reason British Social Attitudes survey numbers are so important is that they show how miserable we’re making the lives of people who need care and their families at a time when we should be looking after them. We’re just going to get more and more of that. It doesn’t have to be like this.

“Compared with our health service or our education system, the amounts of money involved in social care are small. We have somehow not managed to make it a big enough priority.”

Broken services, demoralised staff and the increasing strain on friends, family create a sobering reality

Laura Schlepper, researcher

The alarming care findings have been released ahead of the survey’s full health and care report later this week. According to the survey,, carried out by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) in September and October 2022, the main source of dissatisfaction is people not getting all the social care they need. Other issues cited were inadequate pay, working conditions and training for social care workers and lack of support for unpaid carers.

There were 165,000 unfilled vacancies in social care in England last year. Nuffield Trust researcher Laura Schlepper, the report’s author, said the results came after decades of neglect. She added: “Broken, complicated and fragmented services, demoralised staff in short supply and the increasing strain on friends, family and informal carers to pick up the pieces all create a sobering reality. These results are yet another reason for politicians to replace words with action on social care reform.”

Sally Warren, director of policy at the King’s Fund, said the results made the continued delays to reforming the system all the more frustrating. “We can expect dissatisfaction to rise further still if social care provision continues to decline, with people who draw on care and support, their carers and those working in the sector feeling the pain of this,” she said.

Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, said the government “starves the social care sector of money, and individuals who have to pay for their own care are aggrieved because they feel it should be free at the point of need, exactly as the NHS is”. The Guardian revealed this week that a third of care homes across England have considered closing during the past year because of “financially crippling” running costs. Meanwhile, about £480m in public funds is estimated to have been spent on “inadequate” care homes in the last four years.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the challenges faced by families who rely on social care – and those in the adult social care sector – which is why we are committed to working closely with providers to ensure people receive the highest-quality care. We are providing up to £7.5bn of additional funding over the next two years to support care services, the biggest increase in history. This will help local authorities address waiting lists and workforce pressures.

“We are working to reduce vacancies through a national recruitment campaign, and we have made care workers eligible for the Health and Care visa. We are also making available £15m investment in international recruitment.”