Care Staff ‘Bend Rules’ To Get Help For Elderly

Social workers are exaggerating the needs of elderly people in order to obtain care for them because so many councils are tightening their eligibility criteria, a survey shows.

{mosimage}Of the 300 social workers surveyed by Community Care magazine, 34 per cent said they would be prepared to bend the rules as part of the assessment process to ensure elderly people met the right thresholds for receiving services.

Two thirds were concerned that they would be disciplined further down the line for “lying” but would still go ahead. The survey also found that 67 per cent said their council had tightened eligibility criteria in order to make swingeing cuts in their fast-dwindling budgets.

More than a quarter of social workers had been put under pressure by their managers to assess fewer people as being eligible for services, while more than half had been asked to assess existing clients as no longer eligible.

The findings come as an increasing number of councils forecast budget difficulties in adult services over the coming three years following the Comprehensive Spending Review settlement last month.

Mike Broad, the editor of Community Care, said: “The incredible squeeze on the funding of social services is compromising the work of front-line social workers dealing with vulnerable adults, affecting their ability to support older people, those with disabilities and those with mental health issues. Some social workers are even having to play the system in order to get people the free support they clearly need and deserve.

“The recent funding settlement for local government will do little to alleviate this, although the Government’s recent commitment to explore a new way of funding social services is positive and must deliver a system that can provide more support to more people.”

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.

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.”

Critics say Government funding has failed to keep pace with the demands of an ageing population and a shift in health-care provision away from hospitals towards the home — and 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.

Following the Pre-Budget Report, ministers told councils to keep next year’s council tax rises below five per cent, as Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, offered them real spending increases of one per cent a year for the next few years.

But local authority chiefs said they could not continue services and meet Government demands while economic growth was predicted to be two per cent.