Care budgets hit by a rise in referrals

CARDIFF council’s social services chief has warned “difficult” decisions will have to be taken as it battles a massive £2.2m predicted overspend.

Councillor John Dixon said growing demand from the elderly for care at home and the impact of the Baby P case on children’s services had hit the authority’s social services budgets.

Similar problems are affecting councils across Wales and have led the governments in Westminster and Cardiff Bay to launch consultations on how care for the elderly is funded in the long term.

Coun Dixon said the council was looking at how it delivered residential care, domiciliary care and care for people with severe learning disabilities as it looked to make both short and long-term savings.

Children’s care is also coming under the microscope as the number of referrals to social workers has leapt by 26% in the wake of the Baby P case and led Cardiff council’s children’s services to overshoot its budget by a predicted £700,000 this year.

Coun Dixon said that the cost of providing the care the authority is legally obliged to offer for older people and those with disabilities, had also risen by around 25% this year, leading to a predicted £1.5m overspend.

He said: “This brings to light the national debate over how social services should be funded, as it’s clear that the current formula is unsustainable.

“I personally think that the government has been too quick to dismiss the idea that assessed personal care for adults should be free and funded through general taxation.

“But it’s clear that Parliament and the Assembly need to urgently develop practical, costed proposals, that fund social care properly, before demand overwhelms council budgets.”

He said that in the wake of the Baby P case, a 17-month-old boy who died in Haringey, London, after suffering more than 50 injuries despite being overseen by social services, had led the number of referrals to increase from 746 to 939 in thefirst three months of the year.

He said: “We had hoped that this increase would be temporary, as a result of the media coverage at the time, but it has been sustained and we’ve seen an equivalent increase in the demand for services.”

The overspends in social services have been the biggest contributors to the city’s predicted £1.5m budget black hole this year.

Costs are being cut across departments as the council prepares to make even larger savings next year.

Unison branch secretary Mark Turner said the union was concerned about the increasing use of the private sector to help deliver services in Cardiff as the council tried to make savings.

He said: “For the private sector, this is about cutting costs and making a profit and the only way they can do it is by cutting wages and training.

“That’s the inevitable consequence and sadly that’s the way Cardiff is going.”