Cuts to council budgets threaten care for elderly and disabled

MPs warned that patients with dementia and diabetes risk losing support as a result of savage budget reductions

Home care for the elderly and disabled could be withdrawn from hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people as a result of drastic cuts to council budgets.

The Local Government Association has warned MPs in a written submission, seen by the Observer, of a looming crisis in adult social care, claiming that an increasing number of councils could be forced to restrict services to those who have “critical” needs. It blames the cuts but also Britain’s ageing population.

Elderly people with conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s and diabetes face losing support in their homes in some areas even if they are unable to “carry out the majority of personal care or domestic routines”, such as getting dressed and maintaining personal hygiene.

Andrew Harrop, director of policy and public affairs for Age UK, said that if councils tightened the eligibility criteria to exclude those whose need for care was currently classified as “substantial” it would mean no one living in their own home would be able to access such help: “[Care] would only be for those so fragile they are in a residential home.”

He said that many elderly people valued seeing a care worker because it helped alleviate loneliness: “For many older people it is a health and safety service helping them to get up in the morning, making sure they are OK in the evening,” he added.

The shadow health minister, John Healey, said: “This shows that you cannot make big budget cuts without big consequences and councils will be forced to look at short-term cash savings that will lead to crises in the lives of many.”

Age UK will release figures tomorrow claiming that a 7% cut, which experts say is realistic, would mean 250,000 fewer people receiving care in their homes.

Councillor David Sparks, vice-chair of the LGA, who gave evidence to the health select committee last week, said: “The LGA welcomed the £1bn to local authorities for adult social care, and the £1bn to the NHS in effect to help joint activities with local authorities, but given the demographic trend of the ageing population together with the cutbacks in public expenditure there will still be a shortfall in local government expenditure which will affect adult social care.” Despite government claims that the £2bn is enough to plug the gap, Sparks estimated the shortfall would run into billions of pounds.

The LGA submission says councils will “squeeze [out] every last potential pound” they can to save money through measures such as telecare, where the elderly and disabled are monitored through sensors. But that still won’t be enough. “There are four eligibility bands: critical, substantial, moderate and low… In a future that we know will be characterised by severe funding limitations we may well see an increase in the numbers of councils setting their eligibility level to ‘critical’ only.”

Richard Jones, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, stressed that tightening eligibility criteria would be a last resort and was not inevitable. He said that councils would do everything they could to squeeze out efficiencies before going to “places they do not want to go”.

Jones said they would look at how much they pay for services, how much they charge, the quality of the service provided, and at the end “how many people you are able to support”.

He said social care would inevitably be hit as a result of cuts to local government because it was such a large proportion of local authorities’ budgets. As such, it would always be hard to protect if councils were having to make cuts.”We are the biggest spending area for local government, so protecting [adult] social care at the expense of lighting, roads and children’s social care is extremely challenging.”

Chris Skidmore, a Conservative MP on the health select committee, questioned Sparks and Jones about the issue last week. “The evidence presented to the committee demonstrates clearly the enormous challenge of meeting the rising demands of an ageing population with more complex needs,” he said.

Paul Burstow, minister for care services, said: “It is wrong to scare people about ‘cuts’. The coalition government has prioritised social care – the spending review announced significant extra funding for social care for each of the next four years, increasing to an extra £2bn investment in 2014-15.

“This extra money means no councils need to reduce access to social care… if they improve efficiency and drive forward with reform to make services more personal and preventative.”