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Crisis in adult social care as budgets fall further

Adults social care in England is no longer able to absorb the pressures of rising demand and falling budgets.

The annual budget survey by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) shows that councils have had to make cuts of 26% in their social care budgets (£3.53bn), once inflation and demographic pressures are accounted for.

Things will only get worse next year as government funding for councils falls further, and the Better Care Fund reallocation of resources causes potential instability.

Adass president David Pearson said: “We are concerned about what is happening to people who may not be having their needs met. There needs to be investment in social care to make sure people get the quality and extent of care they need and deserve.”

Local authorities say they expect to have to offer smaller personal budgets and restrict eligibility even further to deal with the funding crisis – and to face more legal challenges as a result. 

Adass said that this year, councils will spend £13.68bn on adult care services, excluding money raised through chargers and money from elsewhere in the public sector spent on specific projects. This is a fall of £266m, or 1.9%, even as demand rises. 

Nearly half of adult care directors surveyed think fewer people will be able to get care services as a result.

The Department of Health said councils have had extra money for social care services this year – £1.1bn – and are “ultimately responsible” for managing their budgets. “But we agree that we all need to work differently to respond to the challenge of our growing ageing population — the Care Act and the Better Care Fund will focus resources on helping people to live independently, which can save money and prevent people from needing more support.”

Outgoing LGA chair Sir Merrick Cockell said: “Next year will be make-or-break for local services provided by councils and for the NHS, and it will be the most vulnerable families and older people in our communities that will feel the brunt of such a severely underfunded service. Less money in social care will have an inevitable impact on councils’ ability to relieve the pressure on a similarly squeezed NHS by keeping people out of hospital and in the community. Too many older people are being let down by a broken system which leaves them languishing in hospital beds while they wait for an alternative, or consigned to residential care because we lack the capacity to help them live independently.”

Richard Humphries, assistant director, policy, at The King’s Fund said the “enormous pressure” on budgets will result in more service cuts and fewer people getting support, “despite the best efforts of local authorities”. He added: “Worryingly, half the money being transferred from the NHS budget to support better joint working between health and social care is now being spent on protecting social care services from budget cuts, rather than driving integrated care and other service changes needed to better meet the needs of patients and service-users.

“Using NHS funding as a sticking plaster does not deal with the significant challenges facing social care, nor does it help address the emerging funding pressures facing the NHS.”

He said the King’s Fund’s own commission under Kate Barker – the interim report from which was covered in the May/June 2014 edition of NHE – will help establish how to ensure adequate funding to meet future needs for both the health and social care services.

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