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Children’s social care gets spending boost, but older people ‘signposted’ to private sector

Children’s social care gets spending boost, but older people ‘signposted’ to private sector

🕔10.Aug 2015

Local councils are reducing the amount they spend on looking after frail older people in order to cope with rapid growth in the number of children with special educational needs or who are thought to be at risk of sexual abuse.

A study by the National Audit Office (NAO) examining the impact on local government of public sector cuts since 2010 shows a nine per cent fall in spending on adult social care. During the same period, spending on children’s social services rose by seven per cent.

Local authorities are increasingly ‘signposting’ older people in need of help to the private and voluntary sectors, a trend that is likely to continue.

The number of adults in England and Wales receiving state-funded care fell by half a million from around 1.8 million in 2008-09 to about 1.3 million in 2013-14down by almost a third.

The NAO report notes that councils typically only pay for individual packages of care for adults assessed as having high needs and limited means and support has been more restricted recently due to financial pressures.

The analysis provides fresh statistical evidence that councils are heading to a position where almost all of their disposable budgets has to be spent on shoring up statutory services like social care, education and refuse collection – a scenario dubbed the ‘jaws of doom’ by Birmingham city council leader Sir Albert Bore.

Since 2010-11 councils have on average cut spending on planning and development by 46 per cent, housing by 34 per cent cut, cultural services by 29 per cent, transport by 21 per cent, environmental services by 18 per cent, central services by 11 per cent and adult social care by nine per cent. Town hall staffing levels are down by about 16 per cent.

Even though council budgets have fallen by a quarter over the past five years because of sharply reduced central government grants, spending on children’s social care has been widely protected.

A national move to push children’s issues to the top of the agenda is reflected in Birmingham where council leaders have given special protection to social services spending. The department, which has been in Government special measures for several years and was until recently overseen by an external commissioner, will see its budget rise by about £30 million this year.

The NAO report states:

Local authorities’ spending on children’s services has to date been maintained, despite the overall fall in local authority spending and the rise in the numbers of children in care.

There is a warning that councils face difficult problems if demand for children’s services is to be met up to 2020:

It remains to be seen whether this can be maintained in future years. Local authorities we spoke to for our 2014 study, Children in Care, expect or are already experiencing a rise in referrals linked to child sexual exploitation, following the abuse reported in Rotherham and other towns.

Such exploitation is becoming better identified and the children concerned often have complex and demanding needs. Local authorities also told us that a particular pressure is emerging for secure residential places for girls at risk of exploitation.

Adult social care remains the largest area of local authority spending, excluding education, with a £15.5 billion budget in 2014-15. NAO warns that financial implications of the Care Act 2014 placing fresh obligations on councils to provide for older people are largely unknown.

The report is published as the Local Government Association argues that unpaid carers playing a pivotal part in supporting the chronically-underfunded adult social care system should be given council tax reductions.

Those who provide at least an hour of unpaid care a week, which would currently cost £17 on average, should be entitled to a reduction of £100 a year. A fully subscribed discount fund of £25 million would support at least 250,000 hours of unpaid care per week, saving up to £220 million a year, the LGA said.

Since April, councils have had several new duties, including responsibility to assess informal carers, regardless of how much care they provide, and to give informal carers access to services on a similar basis to that for the people they care for.

Local authorities must also provide information and advice on care and support services to everyone, regardless of care needs.

Some changes originally planned to come into force from April 2016 have been delayed. These include a cap on the costs which any individual is required to pay towards eligible care and support, and a requirement on local authorities to meet the eligible needs of self-funders in care homes. The Government now anticipates that these changes will be introduced in April 2020.

The NAO report suggests claims by the Government that councils could improve services even though grants were being cut have not been fulfilled:

The first phase of the Care Act 2014 has been implemented well, but this places new responsibilities on local authorities where core funding is being significantly reduced.

Local authorities were expected to save money and improve services, or generate economic growth, through mechanisms which had not been proven to be effective for their stated goals. Evaluation was lacking.

Posing the question “can local authorities meet increasing demands on their adult social care services?” the NAO report comments:

Adult social care is a growing proportion of local authorities’ budgets, and increasing demographic pressures, together with new responsibilities, will put further strain on the system. Levels of demand for the new services that local authorities are required to deliver under the Care Act are uncertain.

The Care Act aims to improve adult social care by focusing on fairness, individual wellbeing and independence, putting individuals in control of their care, and preventing or reducing the need for intensive care and support.

Although local authorities support these aims, it remains to be seen whether and how they can be achieved during austerity.

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