Thousands ‘Are Forced To Choose Between Food And Home Care’

Thousands of vulnerable people are going without food and heating to pay the soaring costs of homecare services provided by local authorities, a coalition of 18 charities says in a report out today.

The charities found that charges for assistance with dressing, washing and eating have more than trebled since 1997 as cash-strapped councils try to limit growth in the social services budget.

Many disabled people and fragile pensioners had cancelled help because they could no longer afford to pay. Others were going short of food or fuel to pay for home care or transport to a day centre.

The charities – representing disabled people, older people, people with long-term medical conditions and carers – said councils had wide discretion about how much to charge. In some areas services were free, but in others the cost could be up to £17.30 an hour. Only the poorest households were exempt.

After investigating the burden on service users, the charities said: “In 1997 authorities raised £102m in fees and charges for homecare services, the vast majority of which was from older people. By 2004 this figure had more than doubled to £205m. By 2006, people over 65 were contributing £380m to the support they receive to remain living in their own homes.”

This was equivalent to a 273% average price increase over nine years for about 200,000 people who are charged for care services at home, a spokesman for the coalition said.

A wheelchair user said she could no longer afford care in the home. “The charges have taken away all my independence. I have the indignity of crawling to get dressed and do things around the house.”

Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living and chair of the coalition, said: “The shocking reality is that people needing support are being forced to choose between eating properly and using vital care services. The government must conduct a thorough review to fully understand the damage that rising care charges are having on people’s lives.”

David Rogers, chairman of the Local Government Association’s wellbeing board, said: “Government funding has not kept pace with the demands of an ageing population. Local authorities are determined to give disabled and older people a fair deal but the social care system is creaking at the seams.”

The Department of Health said it had recently increased the social care budget by £500m to improve council services. A spokeswoman added: “Last month we launched a debate about how we can fund care and support in a way that is affordable and fair in the future.”