£2bn for elderly care likely to be absorbed by council cost-cutting

The government’s extra £2bn in the spending review for caring for the elderly within four years is likely to be swallowed up by the demands placed on local councils to cut costs over the next four years, said charities and experts.

Although the cash infusion was welcomed, the new money will not be ring-fenced in local authority budgets – and will be especially vulnerable at a time when councillors have been asked to find efficiency savings of 7.1% a year. Half the £2bn will be taken from the NHS’s budget, in recognition that it is better to have the elderly in care than in a hospital bed.

A big worry is that the government’s extra money amounts to an increase of just 3.3% a year and campaigners say that an ageing population and growing numbers of people with learning disabilities mean spending needs to rise at 4% above inflation just to keep pace with demand.

“Although increases to the social care budget are to be welcomed, against a background of an ageing population these are likely to represent no improvement in real terms,” said Jane Ashcroft of the older people’s charity Anchor.

Ashcroft said that at present councils in England get £14.4bn for social care – which represents the largest slice of their budgets. “We are looking at filling a gap of billions of pounds. When you look at the real terms rise it’s just not enough money. We already see a combination of rising demand and 25% cuts imposed on local councils – three quarters of whom already provide only statutory services to the most vulnerable adults.”

Others said given the “austerity measures” social care was lucky to get any money at all. “It’s the best we could have hoped for given the funding pressures. There will have to be a solution in the long term especially given the rising costs. We have people on care packages of £100,000 a year and that is not going to go away,” said Richard Humphries of the health think tank the King’s Fund.