1.77 billion social care shortfall will hit lives

Harsh financial pressures and demographic changes have left a gaping £1.77 billion black hole in social care budgets, a Local Government Association report has revealed.

Better IT systems are essential for a large number of local authorities to improve their social service team efficiency, and eligibility management processes.

It’s a classic case of an existing service at breaking point, with people’s lives adversely increasingly hit, until solid multi-agency joined-up ICT systems can become a reality.

An annual survey of social services departments has revealed the financial crisis in the NHS, under-funding from central government and demographic changes have placed enormous financial difficulties on councils. The report is a joint Local Government Association, Association of Directors of Social Services, Society of Municipal Treasurers and Society of County Treasurers publication. Copies are available from the LGA and ADSS press offices on request. A questionnaire was sent to all 150 directors of social services in England and 81 per cent responded.

A £1.768 billion gap exists between what local authorities have to spend in the financial year and what it will cost to deliver services.

The shortfall has been caused by:
– An ageing population and a rising number of people who need care. By 2007 it is forecast there will be more people over 65 than under 16 for the first time, and in many areas this is already the case
– The financial crisis in the NHS, which has led to more people receiving social care rather than care in a hospital
– The soaring cost of contracts with the independent and voluntary sector. Average increases are -.2 per cent for nursing and residential care, and four per cent for home care
– Medical advances that mean young adults with severe physical and learning disabilities are living longer.

Cllr David Rogers, the Local Government Association’s social care spokesperson, stressed councils had made £220 million of efficiencies in social care over the last year.

He said: “Councils are leading the way in making efficiency savings and delivering ever better value for money in the public sector. But the increased number of people in need of care, coupled with some extreme financial pressures, has left many authorities with some deeply worrying problems.”

Cllr Rogers added that financial problems in the NHS and a lack of government investment in social care had exacerbated the problem.

“Health and social care are two sides of the same coin. Under invest in one and you over stretch the other. The number of people in need of care is increasing by the day and a fair, sustainable system of funding must be introduced.”

The 2006/07 local government finance settlement has given half of councils with social services responsibilities a two per cent or less increase – way below the rate of inflation

Julie Jones, President of the Association of Directors of Social Services, said:
“Directors have expressed growing concerns about legitimate cost pressures across adult social care and children’s services. We are being asked to respond positively to the White Paper ‘Our health, Our care, Our say’ and the ‘Every Child matters’ agenda by reinvesting in prevention and early intervention and we are keen to do so.

“But with budgets so stretched by responding to the needs of those with high care requirements it is difficult to see how we can make the shift without additional resources.”

The survey found that because of financial and demographic pressures:
– 80 per cent of councils are tightening eligibility criteria for people with learning, physical and sensory disabilities – 77 per cent will do the same for older people
– Seven out of ten adults will only receive support if their needs are critical – a ten per cent increase.