Welfare cuts may fund the elderly

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The Independent Online
CUTS in social services for children, the disabled and the elderly are likely across England, to pay for the Government's new generosity over long-term residential care.

Local councils are predicting more than pounds 100m of cuts in social services after it emerged that the cost of more generous rules brought in by ministers to help people pay for longterm care would have to come out of existing social service budgets.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kenneth Clarke, announced in last November's Budget that the Government would act to prevent more elderly people from having to sell their homes or use their savings to pay for care in nursing and residential homes. He said the plans would give many eldery people and their families more financial security and greater peace of mind.

But councils have accused the Government of misleading the public and have said that, as ministers were not prepared to fund the changes fully, the cost would have to be met by other vulnerable groups.

Figures obtained by Public Finance magazine reveal the shortfall in the first year of the change is likely to be pounds 111m. Health ministers have agreed to provide English councils with pounds 30m to cover the changes, but councils put the real cost at pounds 141m.

"The missing pounds 111 million will have to come out of existing budgets and at the expense of existing social services," said Denise Platt, social services under-secretary at the Association of Metropolitan Authorities.

In the Budget, Mr Clarke doubled the level of assets above which people must meet the full cost of residential care to pounds 16,000. He also raised the level below which clients make no contribution from pounds 3,000 to pounds 10,000.

Tom Begg, secretary of the Association of Directors of Social Services' community care committee, said many care services were already facing cuts after this year's local government settlement had left social service departments more than pounds 1bn short of what they said they needed."We feel we are getting hit from all sides," Mr Begg said.

Ms Platt warned that the new shortfall would compound problems. "The services that are vulnerable are the simple support services that help people stay at home, such as day care for one or two hours a week," she said, "The sort of services a lot of elderly people need to keep going so they don't need more expensive care later on."

Councils said they would press the Department of Health to meet the shortfall before the final figures are confirmed later this month. Officials said they would look at councils' representations but believed the changes would only cost councils pounds 30m.