Care budgets cut at 80% of councils

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Indy Politics
Eighty per cent of social services departments in England and Wales are imposing budget cuts this year because of "inadequate" government funding, social work directors claimed yesterday.

Cuts will range from the closure of residential homes for children and the elderly and staff redundancies, to increasing charges for home helps and day care and reducing the number of people eligible for services to those with the greatest need.

A survey by the Association of Directors of Social Services reveals a bleak picture of social services departments being forced to axe services for the most needy and vulnerable groups. The cuts come at a time when demands are increasing because of the ageing population and higher expectations encouraged by the NHS and Community Care Act.

The cuts are being forced on local authorities because of the Government's contribution to local councils through the Rate Support Grant Settlement for the next financial year. The Department of the Environment increased grants for 1995/96 by just 0.5 per cent, 2.5 per cent less than inflation.

The ADSS surveyed 70 local authorities, of which only four were planning to increase spending in real terms. More than 80 per cent were making cuts ranging between 0.5 per cent and 10 per cent. In money terms the highest recorded cut is £7.3m planned by Lancashire's social services department, with the average cut £1m.

Robin SeQueira, president of the ADSS, said the most "grim and disturbing trend" was that 30 per cent of directors anticipated making cuts in their children's services budgets to meet additional demands placed on them by elderly and disabled people.

"Unless there is a profound change in the Government's thinking towards the way it finances the care of the weak, the unprotected and the vulnerable in our society, their numbers will grow while our ability to help them will diminish," he said.

At a briefing to give the results of the survey yesterday, Mr SeQueira said: "It is almost becoming deceitful to suggest that local authorities have the cash to fulfil the whole range of user needs."

Tad Kubisa, senior vice-president, said almost all departments were reviewing their eligibility criteria so that fewer people qualified for services, in a development reminiscent of the Poor Law, he said.

Gloucestershire social services department is already facing legal action from elderly clients who had services withdrawn. If Gloucestershire wins the test case in June, the public will lose out. If the council loses, all social services departments will be compelled to provide services regardless of the resources available.

The ADSS survey was dismissed as "a record of pessimism rather than a realistic assessment of resources" by John Bowis, Parliamentary Secretary at the Department of Health.

He said from April every local authority would receive a real terms increase for social services overall. Ring-fenced money for community care would be increased by 9 per cent to £648m, he said. Accusing the councils of crying wolf, Mr Bowis said: "We usually hear dire predictions of under- funding from local authority social services at this time of year. Each year budgets have proved to be adequate." He said councils "should be ready to scrutinise their spending to eliminate waste and inefficiency