Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Concerns about social care

We have an ageing population. People with chronic health problems are living longer.

A recent survey of councils about the challenges of providing care and support for elderly citizens demonstrated the scale of the challenge ahead. These demographic changes are increasing the pressure on services. One council was predicting a 70% increase in residents aged 75+, whilst another was expecting a 44% increase in residents aged over 90.

It is clear that these increases in demand cannot be met by expanding services when budgets are being cut. There are three main ways in which a council can maximise the services provided through the social care budget. It can raise charges, tighten eligibility and re-shape the way in which care is provided.

The survey showed that 88% of councils were increasing charges this year – most above the rate of inflation. Government ministers talk a lot about council tax levels, but they don’t like to talk about increasing charges.

16% of councils were tightening the eligibility criteria for receiving care. This might seem quite a small proportion, until you realise that the majority of councils are already meeting only substantial and critical need. They already have no room left to manoeuvre. It appears that, in the near future, just about every council will only offer support to those requiring substantial and critical. People who have previously been supported will no longer be eligible or will get a significant reduction in their support.

63% of councils are already closing care homes and/or day centres and more expect to follow in the next couple of years. More people will be supported in their own homes – which may be a good thing. However, it is clear that some people who really need 24 hour support in residential care will not get it in future.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, given all the Prime Minister’s talk about the role of voluntary organisations in his Big Society is that more than 50% of councils are cutting their financial support to the voluntary sector providing care services and another 25% expect to do this in the next year. Locally, in Sheffield, the council is making 15% cash cuts to the voluntary sector this year and is closing both residential homes and cutting day-care.

So, elderly people in need of support can look forward to increased charges and less support in future. This is one of the real impacts of the cuts that are now being made. I just wish Ministers would be honest about what the budget cuts really mean.