The social care sector’s reliance on beds from private firms is growing, according to a new report.
Some 84% of social care beds are now provided by the private sector, up from an estimated 82% in 2015, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said.
In total, 91% of local authorities saw an increase in the use of private sector care homes during this period, it said.
Meanwhile, 13% of beds are provided by the voluntary sector and 3% by local authorities.
The IPPR argued the Government should create the extra 75,000 beds needed by 2030 either through state-run or not-for-profit care homes.
It said research has found that larger private providers – particularly those funded by private equity firms – are becoming more dominant in the market.
But, it argued, they can be unstable, with the loss of Southern Cross in 2011 and Four Seasons earlier this year.
Experts behind the study also questioned whether the reliance on private provision could mean lower quality care, with higher turnover of staff, lower pay and less staff training.
The IPPR is now calling for the creation of a national financial care regulator – OfCare – to oversee the financial regulation of major care providers.
It also wants all state-funded providers of care to maintain a “safe” level of cash reserves and demonstrate they are paying their fair share of tax in the UK.
Harry Quilter-Pinner, senior research fellow at the IPPR and lead author of the report, said: “The social care crisis is about more than just money.
“We need radical reform in who provides care and how they do this.
“Over the last few decades care the state has handed over the responsibility for care to the private sector. Too often these firms put profits before people.
“That’s why we need a new financial care regulator to ensure better monitoring of care providers financial health, and a commitment from the Government to increase the share of residential care directly provided by the state, partly through borrowing to build the care homes of the future.
“It’s time to end the care home crisis.”
Grace Blakeley, research fellow and co-author of the report, said: “The fact that private equity-backed firms have taken over a significant share of the UK’s care provision, fuelled by debt and driven by the prospect of rising property prices and ever lower care costs, puts our vital social care system at ever-increasing risk.
“Tens of thousands of people who rely on the state to provide them with care during their times of greatest need are in jeopardy because of increasing ‘financialisation’ which has afflicted the care system just like other parts of the economy.
“The state needs to take back a larger role from the private sector and ensure that this damaging trend is reversed.”
Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England – which represents private providers, said: “Nationalising the care sector is simply not financially viable – moreover there is no evidence to suggest that state-run provision would be better quality.
“Care England’s research demonstrates that state-run provision is often more expensive.
“Nationalising the care sector would be hugely expensive and for a fraction of the cost the Government would be much better off investing in the long-term sustainability of adult social care and maintaining choice amongst citizens.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “We expect everyone to be able to access high quality, safe and compassionate care – already 84% of providers are rated good or outstanding by the Care Quality Commission.
“People who receive care and their families should be able to have confidence that their care provider has a sustainable future.
“We have given local authorities an additional £1.5 billion for social care next year, on top of their existing grants, to continue to stabilise the sector.
“The Prime Minister has said that the Government will set out plans to fix the social care system in due course.”