Vulnerable to be hurt most by 'inhumane' support cuts

Sarah Cassidy
Sunday 21 October 2012 21:05 BST

Councils have been accused of leaving elderly and disabled people to fend for themselves, as research by The Independent reveals that the vast majority have abandoned support for all but the most severely disabled.

Austerity cuts will see people losing vital support which gives them help with shopping, bathing or cooking. Charities condemned the cuts as "inhumane", arguing that they would leave society's most vulnerable "utterly iso- lated". Disabled people are assigned into one of four categories according to their needs: critical, substantial, moderate and low. But it is up to councils to decide which groups receive support.

The Independent's survey of local authorities in England based on Freedom of Information (FoI) requests found that only 14 per cent currently provide help for those with moderate needs. This is set to fall to 11 per cent next year as councils – including Darlington, Rochdale and York – are forced to make further cuts to social care budgets.

Darlington council will tighten its criteria to provide care only to those classed as critical and substantial from December after cutting its adult social care budget by 10 per cent. Rochdale intends to stop funding moderate needs as part of a drive to save £45m by 2015. The plans are currently out to consultation with a final decision due in January.

Almost 200 people in York are set to lose support after the council voted to withdraw its community care service for those with only moderate needs, to save £390,000 a year.

The cutbacks follow similar moves by councils including Bolton, Calderdale, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Warrington and West Sussex, which tightened their regulations last year and now only provide care to people judged to have critical or substantial needs.

Council leaders said they were doing all they could to protect social care provision after seeing their budgets cut by £1.89bn. They called on ministers to address the funding crisis, arguing that social care was "about to fall off a cliff edge".

The controversy over social care funding will be reignited this week when councils' directors of social services tackle ministers over the care crisis at their annual conference.

Michelle Mitchell, charity director general at Age UK, said: "Denying care to vulnerable older people who need help to live in safety and with dignity is frankly inhumane. Social care has already been cut to the bone leaving many older people without the help they need for day-to-day tasks like washing and dressing.

"The news that more local authorities are planning to further restrict access is deeply concerning. Of those older people who risk seeing their current support cut or disappear completely, many will now fear what the future could hold."

The survey, based on 85 FoI responses from the 152 councils in England, found 3.5 per cent currently had a critical threshold, 81 per cent substantial, 14 per cent moderate and 1 per cent low.

The Government has suggested setting a national minimum eligibility standard to end the postcode lottery which sees some people receive free care that is denied to others with the same level of need.

However, campaigners fear that the minimum standard could be set at substantial, increasing the likelihood that the remaining councils who continue to fund moderate or low needs will cease to do so.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said: "Disabled people remain conspicuous by their absence in this discussion. One-third of social care users are disabled adults of working age. Care allows them to get out of the house, have a cooked meal or take part in their community. Without access to care, disabled people are left utterly isolated."

David Rogers, chairman of the Local Government Authority's Community Wellbeing Board, said: "Sadly, it's not surprising that more and more councils are having to make increasingly tough decisions about the level of support they can provide to older people.

"Local authorities are already facing a £1.89bn reduction in social care budgets and increasing demand from a rapidly ageing population. Unless this growing and immediate funding crisis is addressed things are going to get much worse."

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