Crisis in UK Social Care

A trawl through the Nation’s local papers and trade magazines uncovers a disturbing picture of local authority budgetary crisis in delivering adult social services, particularly in regard to learning disability provision.

Reports show increasing budgetary overspends by Social Service departments across the country, leading to cuts in services ranging from charging people with learning disabilities for food and transport to moving them to new accommodation as the cost of supporting those in individual care was to high’.

However these reports only show a part of the picture, by investigating further and examining council reports these increases can be shown to be a national trend that should be of concern to all service providers and users. All of this was predicted by the Association of Social Service Directors back in October 2005 when there report “Pressures on learning disability services The case for review by Government of current funding” in which they stated,

“ADSS and individual local authority Directors of Social Services (and Directors of Adult Social Care or equivalent) have become steadily more alarmed over the last year about the spending pressures of learning disability services on social care budgets. Concern is shared by the Local Government Association and local authority elected members.”
Unfortunately the recently announced 2.7% increase in Government grant announced recently by Local Government Minister is unlikely to alleviate any of the pressure faced by Adult Social Service departments.
Social Care Minister Ivan Lewis has been extremely non-committal in terms of spending plans, in a speech at the recent Learning Disability Partnership boards he stated,

“I understand that people are facing significant pressures on budgets and I am committed to securing the best possible deal for social care within the constraints of a very tight settlement for the Comprehensive Spending Review. However, it is important to recognise that this Government has significantly increased funding to both health and social care. The Government’s policy on individual budgets offers a way forward, to give people more choice and control over the support that they receive.”
It seems unlikely that any significant increase in Central Government funding is likely to be forthcoming in the immediate future which means that local authorities are going to have to make even more stringent savings for the 2007/08 budget. Especially as it seems that the national overspend on adult social services is likely to be somewhere near 500m. Unfortunately it will be those who need the most help that will suffer, either directly through service cuts in care or indirectly through cuts elsewhere, e.g. transport or community services.

This picture of overspending does not, however, reveal the true problem facing learning disability services. For example Kent County Council (KCC) are predicting a 4m overspend but the actual prediction for learning disability services is 4.18m, the overall figure is reduced by an under spend on elderly services. KCC produced their own report earlier this year in which shows that in 2005 it was estimated there were 3257 people with learning disabilities in Kent known to social services, however this does not include adults with learning disabilities who are placed out of area’ and supported by other councils or those simply not known to Kent social services but that this is expected to grow to considerably by 2011 with the largest increase coming in the number of people over 65 (reflecting national predictions) and it is also expected that this ageing population will mean a greater number of adults with learning disabilities will require support from Kent Social Services. While KCC say that most of their overspend for learning disabilities is on residential fees, they recognise that whilst most independent living schemes are cheaper than residential care, in some instances where severe and complex learning difficulties are involved the cost of independent living can be equal to, or more than, the cost of residential care.
Given all of this it seems highly unlikely that the 2.7% grant increase will be anywhere near sufficient for the coming year, especially as this figure is well below the estimate of Public Sector inflation which is over 5%.

Somewhat ironically many of the councils with deficits reported here have been named as 3 star services by CSCI, with an excellent’ rating for Capacity to Improve’. It must be asked how this rating is calculated given the lack of financial ability to improve combined with a culture of budget balancing and service cutbacks.

There is a severe crisis in current finances in care services with the likelihood that the coming financial year will see a further tightening of the screw with councils wanting to pay less’ for services and offering independent providers the barest minimum in fee increases whilst cutting other services and adding more cost pressures to service users and care providers.