BLOG: Social care funding confusion as Birmingham tightens eligibility criteria

Local authorities and the Local Government Association have been busy relaying messages of doom since the Comprehensive Spending Review and draconian cuts in public services were announced in October. And of course one can understand their concern as these times of austerity have the potential to change many of the services we take for granted.

However, social care received the reassuring news from Paul Burstow, care services minister in the Department of Health, that funding for adult social care was to be maintained and may even be increased a little in recognition of its Cinderella status with successive governments. The sum of £2.4bn has been mentioned, £1bn coming from the NHS, £400m in new money for carers, and £1bn from – err … somewhere (presumably the efficiency savings which we have already made year-on-year and which have seen services pared to the bone). Mr Burstow went as far as to place on record his position that councils which forecast cuts in this area were jumping the gun as no such cuts would be required.

Yet the sigh of relief at this news died on the lips of service users, carers, social workers and social care staff, as ever more lurid economies in the field of adult social care have been announced by local authorities. This has culminated in a series of announcements from Birmingham City Council – children’s services are to be cut and fewer referrals dealt with, while all adult social care is to be undertaken by social enterprises and the Council will only directly fund care for those in ‘super critical’ need – a new criterion known only to Birmingham and which presumably requires eligible folk to be at death’s door. What’s more, a third of all the Council’s staff are to be made redundant.

Other authorities have talked similarly about tightening eligibility criteria, outsourcing services, making huge numbers of staff, including social workers and our social care colleagues, redundant. For what it’s worth, they and the Local Government Association have been chastised by central government for this sort of talk.

I have no idea where the truth lies. Has adult social care received more or a similar level of funding or not? Are the councils being set up by the government so it can avoid responsibility for the cuts in this most difficult and delicate of areas? Or is the government being set up by the councils so they can blame the ConDem coalition for cuts they are making for ideological reasons? Or is everyone just panicking?

Social workers are used to dealing with a certain measure of cognitive dissonance in our day-to-day work. We are told to encourage people to receive direct payments and personal budgets so they can have choice, but when it comes down to it the choice is between what they were already getting and nothing because new services are not there.

We are told to work with people in a person-centred way but within systems that treats them as numbers. We try to advocate for early intervention and preventive services (which are, incidentally, cost effective), but are told these are unaffordable luxuries. We are told we should be offering people the new and flexible services they want but we are also expected to gatekeep and ration.

But this moves things up to a whole new level: ‘No cuts because the government has protected social care, but, by the way, your job’s on the line and many of your service users have become ineligible for care and support.’

BASW calls upon the government and the local authorities to stop playing political games and to end this brinkmanship. Stop this political manoeuvring and point scoring and think of those who are desperately anxious, service users and carers, and your dedicated staff. Think about the effects your scaremongering and arguing is having on vulnerable people and work together to resolve the situation and ensure the needs of those who depend upon care and support continue to be met.

Ruth Cartwright, BASW England manager