Exclusive: Crisis in care of elderly as £1bn cuts bite

Hundreds of thousands face reduction in their support
  • @NigelpMorris

Hundreds of thousands of elderly and disabled people face cuts to their support and assistance this year as councils struggle to find new savings of £1bn from social-care budgets, an investigation by The Independent has established.

As town halls cut spending on help for the vulnerable by up to 10 per cent, care homes are being shut, social workers made redundant and charges for day care increased.

There are also warnings that the measures could be counterproductive, as they will increase the strain on hospitals required to care for people not well enough to live at home without support. The economies are being forced through as the cumulative effects of austerity measures announced by the Chancellor mount.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) calculates that budgets dropped in England by £1bn last year and forecasts another £1bn in cuts over the next two years.

Council chiefs are wielding the axe at a time when demographic pressures are growing, with the number of people aged over 85 increasing by more than 250,000 in the last six years.

Some councils are trying to minimise the impact on front-line services through efficiency savings from elsewhere in their budgets, but many are still having to cut services or raise charges.

The Independent carried out a survey of more than 30 authorities, establishing that they are planning to reduce care spending by an average of 3 per cent this year. As a result, many are having to make tough decisions on social care. They include:

* Salford Council, which is trimming care spending by 9.9 per cent. It is proposing cutting 87 jobs and requiring some people to make a contribution towards their care;

* Bradford Council, which plans to raise charges for home care, day care, transport and meals in day centres as it looks for savings of £8.5m. It is also reviewing the future of three care centres;

* Norfolk, where cuts of nearly £7m this year have led to charges for using day services and a reduction of £500,000 on spending on independent living for mental-health patients;

* Lincolnshire, which has to identify savings of £39m by 2014-15, has closed eight care homes;

* Hampshire Council, which is cutting the equivalent of 165 full-time care posts and examining ways of designing "cost-effective care packages".

Growing numbers of councils, such as Leeds, Middlesbrough and Hampshire, are investing in "reablement" programmes of intensive help for people to live independently at home so they do not require long-term support.

Others, including Birmingham, favour the use of "telecare" – a system enabling a vulnerable person to raise the alarm if he or she needs help – as an alternative to personal care.

The scale of the continuing cuts emerged nine months after the Dilnot Commission called for an overhaul in the funding of social care. All-party talks have begun on the issue and the Government has promised to publish a white paper on the subject.

Liz Kendall, the shadow minister for Care and Older People, said: "The care system is in crisis and has reached breaking point. Fewer people are getting the care they need – this is distressing for them and their families. Nor does it make economic sense because it costs all of us more when elderly and disabled people have to spend more time in hospital."

Michelle Mitchell, the director general of Age UK, said: "Cuts to social-care budgets are having a devastating impact on vulnerable older people. As a result, vital services are being withdrawn and reduced and this has led to an unprecedented crisis in care, jeopardising older people's health, dignity and well-being.

"Social care provides the fundamental support to enable people to wash, eat and maintain relationships. There are currently nearly 800,000 older people who need care, who receive no support from either public or private agencies. The Government must not shirk from its responsibility, but must address the current funding shortfall, and create a sustainable system for the future funding of social care."

In a speech to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services today, its president, Sarah Pickup, will warn of tough times ahead because of the continuing squeeze on budgets. "With no chance of an emergency stop, the results will not be pretty," she will say.

Case study

David Gower, 76, lives in sheltered accommodation. He has a neurological problem which has left him with severe mobility problems. He relies on carers four times a day

"My local authority has already cut down my home-care service as much as it can. I rely on carers four times a day to help me with my personal care – morning, lunchtime, tea-time and night-time.

"It is very difficult for the carers to get me out of bed, washed, toileted, dressed and breakfasted, with the bed made, in the 45 minutes' time they have been allotted.

"I've also seen a big increase to the charges I pay for the care. I share my home-care costs with the local authority. My contribution has recently gone up from around £234 to £324 a month. I struggle with my payments – on top of my rent and bills – from my pension and dwindling savings. I am just existing.

"I think it is an inhuman way to treat the elderly and people unable to take care of themselves. My hospital consultant recently gave me a letter to give to social services setting out the different ways I needed help every day – in particular putting a special bandage on my arm at night and applying some medicated cream. Social services have refused to help me. There are many people like me who are really struggling. The cuts are making a bad situation even worse."

Around Britain: How the cuts will bite

Bradford City Council

Three care homes under review

Proposing to increase home care from £10.35 an hour to £13.75 an hour.

Salford City Council

87 estimated job losses within community health and social care. Proposals to require recipients of Adult Social Care services to pay a contribution to the cost of their care.

Leeds City Council

Funding for "reablement" (instead of long-term care). Council looking for £5.1m "efficiency" savings.

Norfolk County Council

£600,000 saving from removing the subsidy for community meals.

Charging for day services.

Manchester City Council

£250 maximum charge for non-residential social care services may be removed. 75 per cent of users can expect to see increase.

Lincolnshire County Council

8 care homes closed. Offering less help for those with "moderate" needs. Affects 700-800 people.

Newcastle City Council

Increasing cost of meals at home £2.50 to £3. Aims to cut residential care placements for older people by 10%

Hampshire County Council

165 full-time job equivalents cut. Examining "cost-effective care packages".

Birmingham City Council

Closed outdated care homes.

Is developing "telecare" to support those living at home.

Middlesbrough Borough Council

Proposing reducing the Dial-A-Ride service. Staff cuts.

Luton Borough Council

Moving contracts to external providers. Value for money review of all existing contracts.

Gloucestershire County Council

8% cut to budget. Reducing "reliance on institutional care", moving towards personal budgets.

Camden London Borough Council

10.2% budget reduction. Members of the council say it is achieving a "significant element" of the cuts through "reablement".