Social care failing disabled over 65s, says report

Age UK predicts more than 1m will be without support by 2014

Social care in England is “grossly inadequate” and “totally failing” to meet the needs of disabled people aged over 65, according to a new report.

Research by Age UK has found that of the 2 million older people in England with care-related needs, just 800,000 receive formal support from public or private sector agencies. But the picture is growing even bleaker, warns the report, Care in Crisis: with spending cuts under way, more than 1 million of the most vulnerable pensioners in England will be left without help or support by 2014, it concludes.

“There has been unprecedented debate on the future of care – both its long-term funding and the ‘transformation’ of council provision today,” said the report’s author, Andrew Harrop, Age UK’s director of policy and public affairs. “But in the meantime, local authority spending decisions have changed the facts on the ground, with a significant deterioration in services for older people.

“Over the last six years publicly funded social care for older people has been systematically starved of cash,” he said.

Elaine McDonald, a 67-year-old former ballerina, is taking her local authority of Kensington and Chelsea to the supreme court for reducing her care package from seven days a week to just one.

McDonald has had to use a wheelchair since a stroke in 2007. Since the local authority reduced her care package, she has had two serious falls, one of which led to a broken hip. “I have worked and paid taxes since I was 16, and have lived in the borough for 47 years, so I don’t think I am asking for much in return,” she said.

Since 2004, net spending on older people’s social care has risen by 0.1% a year in real terms, a total of £43m, while real spending on the NHS has risen by £25bn.

“Spending cuts are projected to reduce spending on older people’s care by a minimum of £300m over four years,” said Harrop. “Real spending on older people’s care will be £250m lower in 2014 than in 2004. Over the same period, the number of people over 85 has risen by two-thirds to 630,000 people.”

The Care in Crisis report said that while half of councils provided support to people assessed as having “moderate” needs in 2005, that had fallen to 15% by 2011.

The Age UK report found huge regional discrepancies in the quantity and quality of care for older people: Tower Hamlets, the highest-spending local authority, spends five times as much on each older resident as Cornwall, the lowest-spending.

“Age UK found that public sector commissioners are underpaying for older people’s care homes by a total of around half a billion pounds,” Harrop said. “The average shortfall per resident is £60 per week, rising to £120 per week in south-east England. Many care homes are demanding that older people and their relatives ‘top up’ their care fees with private money.”

It is, he said, a “real injustice” that forces families to subsidise the state’s statutory duties. Especially when, he points out, younger service users are allocated an average of £78 a week per person, compared to £53 a week per older person.

Reform, however, cannot be achieved without billions of pounds of new money, the researchers found.

“Today taxpayers spend 0.5% of GDP on care for older people in England. If we merely maintain this level we will cause misery and danger for hundreds of thousands of frail older people,” said Harrop.

In a costed package of solutions, the report estimates that Britain needs to spend a minimum of 0.9% of GDP on care in later life by the mid-2020s: around £2-3bn a year.

The publication of the Age UK report comes as The Dilnot Commission finalises its recommendations on the future funding of care and support in England. The independent commission is due to publish its findings at the beginning of July.

Martin Green, chief executive of the English Community Care Association, said: “We need the Dilnot Commission to come up with a solution, but we also need politicians with the guts to actually implement it.