Widespread funding cutbacks will be exacerbated by fallout from the financial difficulties of Southern Cross Healthcare

Home help and residential care services for tens of thousands of elderly and disabled people will be slashed this year as councils struggle to cope with the spending squeeze, a survey for The Independent has established.

Authorities face an average cut of 6 per cent in social care budgets – and more than double that in some of the hardest-pressed authorities – leading to redundancies and care-home closures. The pressure on care budgets emerged as Britain's biggest provider of care homes faces a financial crisis. Were Southern Cross Healthcare, which runs 750 homes, to collapse, councils could be forced to intervene to look after 31,000 elderly people as they have a statutory duty of care.

Following George Osborne's austerity Budget, councils across England are being forced to trim their social-care budgets by a total of £1bn this year. The cuts are being made as a time when a rapidly ageing population means costs are also rising by some £400m a year.

Most councils are attempting to limit the damage by finding efficiency savings, but many are also being forced to close homes, to raise the threshold at which people qualify for care or to increase charges. Authorities where the axe is falling include:

* Bradford Council, which is drawing up plans to cut more than £9m from its adult services department in 2011-12. It plans to scrap a centre for the disabled and has already increased the cost of Meals on Wheels.

* Stoke-on-Trent, whose care budget is falling from £100.9m to £87.8m, a cut of 13 per cent. It is closing two residential care homes.

* West Sussex, which faces cuts of about 6.1 per cent from £212m to £199m. It intends to stop care for adults with "moderate" needs to concentrate on those regarded as "substantial" or "critical", a move that has provoked angry protests in the county.

* Liverpool is raising the criteria for adults to qualify for care and is proposing the closure of nine day-care centres.

* County Durham faces a headline cut of 18 per cent in care funding, although other grants will soften the blow.

* Dudley, where the social care budget is being cut by 7.5 per cent from £81.8m to £75.7m. It has closed one long-stay home and will be reviewing the future of its other six overs the next two years.

* Lincolnshire, where the budget is falling by 7 per cent from £140m to £130.6m. The county is closing five respite and day centres and considering scaling back help for people with "moderate" needs.

* Manchester is attempting to make £39.5m in savings on social care, with a proposed 278 redundancies.

Sarah Pickup, the vice president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said the majority of the savings across the country would be through greater efficiency.

But she added: "These are difficult times... Authorities are doing their best to manage, but it will get harder and harder – we have two years of financial pressure ahead."

She said it was important for the Government to produce long-term plans for the future funding of social care. The issue is being considered by a commission headed by the economist Andrew Dilnot, which is due to report next month.

Southern Cross announced yesterday it was to underpay its rent by 30 per cent over the next four months in an attempt to keep afloat. Part of the problem facing the firm, which admitted being in a "critical financial condition" as it announced a £311m half-yearly loss, is a decline in local authority fees.

Yesterday Downing Street indicated the Government could step in, promising that no elderly resident of a Southern Cross home would lose out. Although there is no threat of imminent closure of any of its homes, union leaders and residents' families called for urgent action to intervene to ease the uncertainty facing elderly residents.

Paul Kenny, the general secretary of the GMB union, said: "These are not factories facing closure – they are a vital part of the social fabric of every community." Speaking outside the Tower Bridge Care Centre in Bermondsey, London, Stanley Tower, 74, from Rotherhithe, south London, who was visiting his sister Renée, 82, who has been at the home for nine years, said: "I'm worried about it. It would be a big difficulty for my sister. I can't look after her and she can't look after herself."

Abuse sparks urgent care review

The care of people with learning disabilities is to be urgently reviewed after the exposure of "inhumane" abuse at a privately-run residential hospital in Bristol, charging £3,500 per resident per week.

Secret filming by BBC Panorama showed vulnerable adults at Winterbourne View, which has24 residents, being punched, slapped and taunted by carers. Four people – three men and a woman – were arrested and bailed by Avon and Somerset police yesterday. Thirteen members of staff have been suspended by the hospital's owners, Castlebeck, whose fees are paid by local authorities.

Paul Burstow, the care services minister, ordered a "thorough examination" of the role of the Care Quality Commission – the social care services regulator – and local authorities in the case. He also asked the CQC to carry out a series of unannounced inspections around the country.

"There can be no place for such inhumanity in care services," he said. "There have been failures of inspection and adult protection which have exposed people to appalling abuse."

Yesterday the CQC apologised for its failings.

Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor

Case study: 'I don't want to move him – it would kill him'

John Twigger, 88

John's 91-year-old brother-in-law, Steven Dickens, has lived in Southern Cross's Rose Lodge care home in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, for four years

I'm very disturbed about the situation, and I'm 88 myself, but I don't want to move him now because I think it would kill him. He feels like that's his home now, and I'm in a state of not knowing which way to turn.

If they go bust what's going to happen for those people? It will be a disaster. They say if they fold then the councils will take the homes over. But the councils have already shut their own care homes – how can they possibly take over somebody elses?

I don't think any of the patients in there know about it, but I've been aware of the problems since April. They used to put on a birthday party for him, but when he was 91 I asked if they were going to have one and they said no. 'We'll put a few sandwiches on but the cakes and pastries you'll have to supply,' they said. I thought 'Aye aye, there's something wrong here'.

I think the problem is with the company. Four years ago Southern Cross had 300 or 400 care homes and now they've got 700; they've grown too fast and too quick. I received a letter from them trying to explain the situation, but I want to know what the Government are doing. They should do what's necessary.

My brother went right through the war in the merchant navy, and this is how they're being treated when they come to the age of 91.

Rob Hastings

Case study: 'Her dementia means she needs consistency'

Vicki Humphreys, 65

Vicki's 90-year-old mother, Margaret Cropper, has lived in Beechcroft, a Southern Cross nursing home in Runcorn, Cheshire, for two years

I am really worried because my mother, having developed dementia, needs consistency. You can't keep moving her at this stage. She isn't aware of it herself; she's happy with her situation and she's in good spirits. But the way things are going, it will close down.

I was her full-time carer before she came here but it never really worked as it should have done, and she's more settled now. I come in every day but it takes the pressure off me, my sister and my brother, so we would be very upset if anything was to change.

When you've got an elderly mother, it gives me peace of mind to know she's being looked after, she won't end up with pneumonia or something. The staff here are very, very good, but it's on the news and I'm sure there are growing concerns for them too. A lot of other people feel the same way, because we entrust our parents to them, for them to do the job that we aren't trained for ourselves.

It's taken everybody by surprise because the last thing we heard was that Southern Cross was safe and now it's all gone in the opposite direction. This is the only nursing home in Runcorn and it's the best place for her because I don't drive, but it's only five minutes away. I've recommended it to other people.

Rob Hastings