Preventative care for elderly under threat, survey suggests

Services have been cut or frozen by two-thirds of local councils since coalition came to power, according to ComRes study

Personal care services that help elderly people remain living in their own homes have been cut or frozen by two-thirds of local councils since the coalition came to power, a survey shows.

When 435 local councillors in England were asked about social care provision in their area, 64% said their council had reduced or kept funding the same since May 2010 for preventative care and those classed as having low-level needs .

A third (151) had seen their local budget cut, with reductions averaging 16%. Among those councillors, 76% said the cuts meant that elderly and vulnerable local residents were now at greater risk, while the same number admitted they were worried about the welfare of such people. And 69% said people in need would now not receive the help and support they needed.

The findings, from a ComRes survey for the British Red Cross (BRC), sparked claims that social care cuts are short-sighted because they leave councils and the NHS facing a greater burden because some people who can no longer cope at home without support end up in a care home or hospital.

“Cutting vital services is not only bad for elderly and vulnerable people, it’s bad economics”, said Sir Nick Young, the BRC’s chief executive. “We know councils are facing pressures on their budgets but we urge them to rethink short-term cuts and spending freezes which could actually leave them worse off financially”.

The charity is urging councils to ringfence preventative care spending from cuts they make. “The right support at the right time can transform people’s lives by giving them the independence to enjoy life in their own home. Investing in preventative care also means millions of pounds will eventually be saved as fewer people need intensive and expensive support”, added Young.

A new analysis of prevention services run by the BRC conducted by the business advisory firm Deloitte shows they help elderly people avoid a spell in hospital, reduce the risk of them being readmitted after treatment and lessen the risk of them ending up in residential care.

Labour said the councillors’ views showed how Whitehall cuts to town hall budgets had produced misery and uncertainty for people who needed help. “This survey provides yet more evidence that vulnerable older and disabled people are paying the price of this government’s short-sighted cuts to social care”, said Liz Kendall, the shadow minister for care and older people.

“Vital support that helps people stay living independently in their own homes is being stripped away. This is causing huge distress for them and their families and it is ending up costing us all more, as people end up having to use more expensive hospital and residential care”, she added.

Labour want the NHS and social care systems to be merged into one, as they are in Torbay in Devon and Northern Ireland, so that older people and the disabled can more easily access one combined service that responds to their changing needs.

The Department of Health said its forthcoming care and support bill would improve the situation. “We know how important preventative services are and that older people want to stay independent and active for as long as possible. That is why are introducing legislation to make local councils prioritise early intervention and preventative care services in their local communities”, said a spokeswoman.

“The care of older people is a priority for this government, that is why we have taken action to protect access to care and support by providing an extra £7.2bn over four years”, she added.