Anger after care minister denies shortfall in funding

A MINISTER sparked anger yesterday when he insisted care for elderly people was enjoying a funding boost – even as scores of councils increase charges and close homes.

Among the local authorities making cuts is Durham County Council, which closed seven care homes last year and is considering increasing charges for daycare services.

Meanwhile, Stockton Borough Council has restricted care to people with substantial needs, denying help to people unable to carry out everyday tasks, such as getting up, bathing, making meals, housework and shopping.

Surveys have suggested the majority of town halls are making similar cuts, after what Labour attacked as “unprecedented”

cuts in local authority spending power.

But, yesterday, Social Care Minister Paul Burstow told MPs there was no funding gap, if local councils made the necessary efficiencies in the way they deliver care. He said: “We have a good settlement – the biggest transfer of hard cash from the NHS to social care ever.”

His comment echoed repeated claims by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, that councils are making cuts unnecessarily – with the difference that Mr Burstow is a Liberal Democrat minister.

And it provoked ridicule from Alex Cunningham, the Stockton North MP who led the debate. He said: “Mr Burstow needs to talk to directors of social care around the country if he thinks there isn’t a problem. In the North, spending on social care will fall by 4.7 per cent in the current financial year alone.

Local authorities in the most deprived areas are the ones suffering the deepest cuts.”

Earlier, the Labour backbencher accused the Government of attempting to soften people up and lower their expectations – so they turned to their families, charities, or private care, for help.

And he praised an unnamed woman from Billingham, who, despite being blind from the age of 18, joined last week’s protest at Westminster against cuts to care for the disabled.

Mr Cunningham said: “My fear is that, as services are being razed, capacity is being lost, services are withdrawn and staff are being lost. This is capacity and skills which cannot easily be recreated.”

But Mr Burstow said the coalition had set aside an extra £2bn for social care by 2015.

And, while admitting a further 15 councils were restricting care to people with “substantial”

needs, he insisted: “Eligibility has been tightened, but this is not new.”

Mr Burstow also dismissed a recent BBC study, suggesting social care spending was falling in the North, while rising in the South.