It’s a simple truth: cuts hurt.
Whether you’re talking about a scratch to someone’s arm or a deep cut to funding that affects thousands of people, the net result will always be the same.
And across the country, as drastic decreases to social care provision kick in, many local authorities are already starting to wince.
According to a new ComRes poll, commissioned by the British Red Cross, almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of councillors have seen funding for preventative and low-level social care cut or frozen since the last local election.
And where cuts (averaging 16 per cent) have taken place, 76 per cent of councillors are worried about the elderly and vulnerable in their local area. It gets worse: in areas affected by cuts, 69 per cent of councillors clearly state that, as things stand, people in need will not receive the appropriate care.
Invest to save
So let’s put it bluntly: cuts and underfunding to preventative social care are leaving vulnerable people at risk. With their budgets slashed by central government, local authorities have cut back on lower level services and the impact is already being felt.
This is not only bad news for elderly and vulnerable people, but bad economics. Imposing short-term cuts and spending freezes now could actually leave local authorities worse off financially very soon afterwards, whereas investing in preventative care will ultimately lead to savings as fewer people need intensive and expensive support.
Amid such confusion, it’s important to recognise the unquestionable benefits that the voluntary sector can bring to this troubled area – both in providing quality short-term care for the most vulnerable and saving millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.
The business advisory firm Deloitte recently looked in depth at six of the Red Cross’ 100-plus preventative support schemes across the UK. They found that, on average, we offer a return on investment of 147 per cent to health and social care commissioners – that’s a sizeable £8 million savings for the NHS and social care providers each year.
How we do this is pretty straightforward. By providing preventative and follow-up support at the vital stages, our volunteers and staff help prevent hospital stays, reduce levels of readmission, and minimise the need for expensive residential care. The savings from all this activity soon add up.
Take just one example from Deloitte’s report. In Bristol, a single Red Cross scheme – which helps resettle vulnerable A&E patients back at home – saves around £168 per service user. That alone makes an annual saving of £46,000 to commissioners.
But it’s not just about the money. Crucially, the Red Cross’ brand of preventative care means that elderly and vulnerable people are often able to get the support they need at home during a rough patch, precluding the need for hospital admission. (For many, the process of leaving home for a hospital bed is as unsettling as their ailment itself, so this matters.)
Even following a hospital visit, having the Red Cross’ support means vulnerable people – especially those who live alone – can return home much more quickly, empowering them and freeing up much-needed beds.
What’s more, we regularly prevent hospital re-admissions. Take Colin Watson, for example. Following treatment for bowel cancer recently, the weakened 69-year-old had to be carried up the stairs to his second-floor council flat. He was in a real bind.
Colin recalled: “I was really struggling and didn’t know what to do. I’d been told to follow a very specific diet, but only had one electric hot plate and had never cooked properly. So when the Red Cross came, it was a huge relief. Besides doing household chores, they provided a microwave, got my shopping and prepared my meals.
“If they hadn’t been there, I’d definitely have been re-admitted to hospital – their support was fantastic. You can’t underestimate this kind of support and thankfully, I’m now making a good recovery.”
Duty of care
Given that the UK’s financial outlook is set to remain bleak for years to come, the preventative approach to health and social care is merely common sense. Of course, the Red Cross welcomes the government’s commitment to putting prevention at the heart of social care reform, but more still needs to be done to make this commitment a reality.
Everyone accepts that times are tough and there’s a need for collective belt-tightening. But in a civilised society, that shouldn’t mean ignoring our duty of care to the most vulnerable. Just because there’s less money to go around doesn’t mean these people need our help any less.
In the face of unprecedented pressures on local authority budgets, ring-fenced funds must be allocated for preventative social care services to ensure those who most need help get the right support at the right time. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.”