Councils across the UK are buying vital home help for elderly people on the cheap, the firms providing care say.
Thousands of vulnerable older people rely on councils to organise support for them for daily tasks such as washing, dressing and feeding.
But research by the UK Homecare Association found only one in seven was paying a fair price for care.
It said this meant visits were being cut short, but councils said they had insufficient money to pay more.
‘I would like more care’
Doreen Foreman is 88 and lives in the north-east of England. Carers come in four times a day for 30 minutes each.
She relies on her carers for virtually everything. She has limited mobility so needs them to help her go to the toilet and to fetch her meals.
She says she loves to chat with her carers because it makes her happy, but adds there is not always enough time.
“They say they only have half an hour. We manage in that time, but I would like more.”
Karley Craig, one of Doreen’s carers, sympathises with her. She says she would like more time, but as they need to deal with Doreen’s medication and food and move her with a hoist, there is little time for anything else because Karley then has to go on to her next client.
Karley says caring is something she “always wanted to do”, but says the pay is not enough for the level of responsibility she has.
“We are doing what district nurses do,” she adds.
What did the research find?
More than 850,000 people are given support in their own home.
About 80% of this is organised by councils, which normally outsource the work to care agencies.
The UKHCA, the umbrella group for care firms, asked more than 200 councils and care trusts for information about how much they paid for care.
The average fee was £16.12 an hour, although in some places it was below £13.
The UKHCA said the minimum price was £18.01, once factoring in the cost of running the services and the wages for the care worker was considered.
Regionally in England, councils in the north-west and north-east had the lowest rates, while nationally in the UK, Northern Ireland paid the least.
UKHCA policy and campaigns director Colin Angel accused councils of buying care “on the cheap”.
He said it was forcing a number of providers to hand back contracts or refuse to take them on as the prices did not cover “adequate wages and the costs of running safe and effective services”.
He said that was having an impact on recruitment and retention and forcing services to cut back on the number and length of visits.
How have experts reacted?
Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK, said this was having a terrible impact on vulnerable older people.
“It’s difficult not to feel anxious if you are an older person who relies on care at home.”
Councillor Ian Hudspeth, of the Local Government Association, acknowledged there was a problem, but said councils could not afford to pay more as the system was at “breaking point”.
“Councils, care providers, charities and the NHS are all united around the need for central government to fully fund adult social care,” he added.
The Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said it would be setting out its plans for the funding of social care in a Green Paper later this year.