Cutbacks ‘Rationing’ Social Care For Elderly

Hundreds of thousands of elderly people have had their social care cut in the past decade. Seven in 10 councils in England have been forced to “ration” services since Labour came to power, according to the Local Government Association.

{mosimage}Most town halls now provide services – including meals on wheels, trips to day centres and home visits from social workers – only to pensioners with “substantial” or “critical” needs.

Lack of funding means many councils now help only those who are seriously ill or incapacitated. In some cases, pensioners have had to sell their homes to help pay for private care, or ask their families to pick up the bill.

The revelations follow last week’s admission by Ivan Lewis, the minister responsible for care services, that provision for the elderly is “one of the great challenges facing our society”. He called for “a new settlement that is fair and -sustainable”.

A spokesman for Age Concern said: “The withdrawal of social care services is having a devastating impact on the elderly. Cutting down or restricting by tightening criteria will mean people will often have to do without.”

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the King’s Fund, a health charity, said: “It is clear that the current system is unfair. Council eligibility criteria are tightening, which means hundreds of thousands are not receiving the support they need.”

A submission to the Treasury titled “Without A Care?” by the LGA – which represents 1.2 million elderly people – says government funding has failed to keep pace with the demands of an ageing population and a shift in healthcare provision away from hospitals towards the home.

The assessment was sent to the Treasury for its Comprehensive Spending Review due later this year. It will decide council budgets for the next three years.

Although council spending on care for the aged has risen 65 per cent since 1997, central government grants have increased only 14 per cent. In a foreword to the document, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, chairman of the LGA, says: “[To receive care] people have to wait until their life is threatened, they have serious physical or mental illness, or they are unable to carry out the majority of domestic routines.”

The LGA says the problems are likely to increase. By 2017 the number of people aged over 65 is expected to rise by 25 per cent and the number of over-85s by 38 per cent. Lord Bruce-Lockhart said: “If this increasing trend of rationing services continuesu2026 by 2009 older people will only receive care when their needs reach a substantial/critical level.”

Eric Pickles, the shadow local government minister, said: “Funding for care for the elderly is one of the biggest problems facing local government. Thanks to the financial crisis in the NHS, councils and NHS trusts are now playing pass the parcel to see who picks up the tab.”

A spokesman for the Communities and Local Government department said: “We do not accept the LGA’s analysis. This Government has put £14.6 billion into social care since 1999.”

Michael Woodford, 72, has had multiple sclerosis for 35 years. He is confined to a wheelchair. To care for him, his wife Anne, 74, left her full-time job as a company secretary to work from home. But last year she had spinal surgery and now has regular hospital appointments. Mrs Woodford says Hampshire County Council, which has rationed services, does not provide the support her husband needs. “He can still drive but now he has to wait on the pavement and ask strangers to help him in and out of the car,” she says.

The Woodfords have spent their savings on private care and have shelved travel plans. A carer visits each morning to help dress and bathe Mr Woodford. But they say they also need someone each evening to prepare meals and help Mr Woodford undress when his wife is in hospital.

Freddie Freeman, 79, has severe Alzheimer’s disease and prostate cancer and is bedridden. He receives no direct care from Suffolk County Council and his step-daughter Paula Gaskell, 56, has left her job to care for him. She was struggling until Access, a local charity funded by the council, helped. But Suffolk had to cut £14.5 million from its care budget last year and the money for Access dried up.

Access arranged a place for Mr Freeman at two day centres and sent someone to sit with him when the family went shopping. But despite calls to the council, the Freemans have not been visited by a social worker since Access closed last Christmas. The couple say they need at least two hours of assistance each day.