`Weak at risk' from pounds 125m cuts

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The Independent Online
A pounds 125m social services shortfall this year will leave the most vulnerable at risk, according to a survey by directors of social services.

The elderly will be left stuck in hospital beds and children at risk of abuse will have to go without proper social work supervision, warned the Association of Directors of Social Services. Staff levels might also have to be reduced and charges for basic home care increased.

The figures were based on a survey of local authorities in England and Wales. It found that metropolitan boroughs had suffered an overall 2.68 per cent reduction from 1 April this year; county councils a cut of 0.66 per cent and Welsh authorities will lose 2.95 per cent from their boroughs. In comparison London boroughs have had a slight gain of 0.31 per cent.

Directors said the reductions needed to be seen in the light of 0.9 per cent increase in government funding and an inflation rate of almost 3 per cent.

At the same time they have added responsibilities of implementing the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act at a cost of pounds 40m and the Disability Act.

Seven in 10 town halls replied to the survey carried out last month. Three social services departments - Calderdale, Leeds and Wirral - have made cuts of around 7 per cent.

More than 80 per cent of metropolitan authorities, 52 per cent of shires; and 61 per cent of London boroughs will increase existing charges. And while one-quarter of authorities indicated a growth in spending, only five would be increasing spending to match inflation.

The president of the ADSS, Tad Kubisa, said: "Our capacity to respond to rapidly increasing demands and needs has reached a critical point.

"Unless there is decisive action next year to repair the damage done to the fabric of social services . . . our ability to protect the people we are statutorily obliged to protect and nurture will be put seriously at risk."

But the survey's findings were rejected by the junior health minister, John Horam, as "a record of dire predictions rather than a realistic assessment".

"Each year, budgets have proved to be adequate and out-turn higher than budgets," he said. "It is for councils to decide their priorities and to use resources effectively to deliver quality social services.

"I hope they will not miss the opportunity to cut back on bureaucracy, and to close care homes owned by the council where the service can be provided with better value."

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