Cuts to Hackney care budget could ‘harm’ older people

Social care has already been hit hard by the Coalition Government’s spending squeeze and plans for more cuts risk making life intolerable for many needy pensioners

Charity leaders have warned that the scale of council cuts could do unacceptable harm to vulnerable older people in the borough.

Over the past three years Hackney Council’s budget for elderly people has been reduced by around 4.5%, which means the total budget allocation for older people aged 65 and over and older mentally ill people is just £37,756k.

Adult social care includes services for older people or anyone over the age of 18 with a physical or mental illness preventing them from leading an independent life.

The budget has been reduced by around £1.7m over the past year and the Town Hall is now planning to shave off a further £515,000 within the next 12 months.

This will be achieved through five ‘alternative savings’ strategies, which include cutting down on staff numbers and reducing total care time by 10,000 hours overall in a bid to reduce overall spending to £120m per year.

Local authorities across the country have made large cuts to this sector and are planning more. A report released last month (2 December), compiled by Age UK and Greater London Forum for Older People (GLF), urged councils across the capital to resist cuts to older people’s services.

These are ‘challenging times’, concedes the paper, but research suggests further cuts to adult social care could reduce older peoples’ independence, increase their chances of social isolation and have a damaging effect of health, leading to greater public expenditure overall.

Sam Mauger, chief executive of Age UK London, said he understands the pressure on local councils to make savings but claimed many were going about it in the wrong way.

He said: “Older people’s care in London is already overstretched. We know that local authorities have to make overall cuts in their spending, but further cuts to fundamental services like personal care for older people in London could harm vulnerable people.”

Michelle Mitchell, the director of Age UK, says the dire state of adult social care for the elderly stretches far beyond the capital.

She told the Guardian newspaper: “Care is in crisis and it is getting worse. We have evidence to show that local authorities have cut care for older people by 4.5 per cent this year, and this is at a time when social care is chronically underfunded anyway.

“One of the biggest worries, whether you are in poverty or whether you are managing on a very, very low income, is that the cost of living is increasing very rapidly …”

In a statement Hackney Council said there are no cuts to direct service provision and local data shows an increase in provision to the most needy and frail service users, along with an increase of 48,000 home care hours. However, it admitted that in order to set its budget for 2011/12 it has had to reduce its adult social care budget.

The Council said its decisions have been made against the backdrop of some of the most severe reductions in central government support to local government for many years: “The Council’s overall government grant allocation was £44m less than the previous year, representing a 14.9% reduction in funding to pay for essential services.

“We have protected frontline services as far as possible and the savings approved [budget cut] for adult social care was considerably less at 3% of last year’s budget.

“In making these savings the focus was on remodelling services through the transformation of adult social care and delivering efficiencies in back office and administration.

“Hackney Council remains committed to supporting our most vulnerable residents and to retaining the current eligibility criteria for services. We provide excellent social services to our residents and will do everything we can to protect frontline services.”