moneyCalls have been made for social care to receive the same protection and investment as the NHS, after a survey revealed that allowing local authorities to increase council tax to pay for social care has failed to raise enough money to address the huge shortfall in funding in the face of increasing demand.  

The results of a survey of all 151 adult social services directors in England, published today by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), found that the council tax precept, introduced in the Autumn Statement 2015 to give councils the option to raise council tax by 2% for adult social care, will generate less than two thirds of the more than £600 million needed to cover the new National Living Wage (NLW) this year. 

That means that this year directors are left with a gap to fill of about £940 million just to keep services operating at last year’s levels – for all of those people who need them.

While the overall budget for adult social services has risen slightly from last year due to the precept, from £13.65 billion to £13.82 billion, there is wide variation between individual councils, with 70 reporting a fall in budgets. Meanwhile, 62 councils needed to draw on reserves last year to fund budget shortfalls, while 52 had to cut services to balance budgets. The precept also raises the least amount of money in the areas of greatest need, intensifying budget pressures. 

ADASS’ survey also found that more people in need were being affected by the crisis in social care funding:

Despite a 3% increase in the older population, there has not been a corresponding rise in people receiving care

At least 24% of the £941 million (7%) savings that adult social services directors will be expected to make this year will come from cutting services or reducing personal budgets

80% of directors reported that care providers – care home owners and home care providers – were facing financial difficulties and closing care homes or handing back contracts to councils, affecting thousands of people, despite 82% of councils increasing fees to providers. 

Harold Bodmer, president of ADASS, said: “Councils are working hard to protect adult social services budgets, with adult social care accounting for 35% of council spending for the third year running. However, with more people needing support and having increasingly complex needs, the impact of the welcome National Living Wage, and other cost pressures, fewer people are getting help, and councils are having to make reductions which will impact on people who receive care.

“More money needs to be invested in prevention to reduce future demand, but with funding under such pressure and diverted to those with greatest and immediate need – those that we have a statutory duty towards – the opportunity to do that is being taken away. 

“We have been arguing for some time now that adult social care needs to be given the same protection and investment as the NHS. Services are already being cut, and the outlook for future care is bleak. We’re at a tipping point where social care is in jeopardy, and unless the government addresses the chronic underfunding of the sector, there will be worrying consequences for the NHS and, most importantly, older and disabled people, their families and carers.”

The survey was carried out before the EU referendum, which left many questions unanswered about how services will be affected in the future – including adult social care.

“ADASS will be closely monitoring the potential impact of the referendum result on the economy and funding of adult social services, and we’ve extended our support to the 80,000 EU staff who are providing care to people right across the country, every day,” added Bodmer. 

“While these may be uncertain times, the most important thing to remember is that people’s needs for care won’t stop. We still have a responsibility to make sure people are getting the support they need to live independent, valuable lives, and to plan ahead as best we possibly can.”

More funding needed

Cllr Nick Forbes, senior vice chair at the Local Government Association, echoed Bodmer’s sentiments. “Councils will continue to do all they can to maintain the services that older and vulnerable people rely on but there is little scope left for further efficiencies to be made,” he said. 

“The growing demand of our ageing population, as well as increasing costs following the introduction of the National Living Wage, are squeezing care home and domiciliary care providers to the point of collapse. A lack of funding is already leading to providers pulling out of the publicly-funded care market and shifting their attention towards people who are able to fully fund their own care. 

“With people living longer and with more complex health conditions, we must move away from simply trying to ensure people are able to eat, drink and get dressed.

“It cannot be solely left to local council taxpayers to fix our chronically underfunded social care system. Councils, care providers, charities and the NHS are all united around the need for central government to fully fund adult social care as this is vital to ensure our loved ones enjoy the dignified and independent quality of life they deserve.

“As a starting point, the government should bring forward £700 million of desperately-needed social care funding earmarked for the end of the decade to allow councils to protect vital social care services essential to easing the pressure on care providers and on the NHS.”

Bleak future

Dr Rhidian Hughes, head of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, which represents not-for-profit disability organisations that together provide care and support to more than one million disabled people, said: “The survey findings suggest that the future funding for adult social care is very bleak. Year-on-year the authoritative analysis from ADASS highlights the continual underfunding of services as cuts are made and unmet need rises. 

“This year is the worst of times for our sector. Services have been cut back to the bone, and the current position of some councils – forced to use reserves to prop up essential services – is clearly unsustainable. It is essential that government pays heed to the important findings in the ADASS report.”

Heléna Herklots, chief executive of Carers UK, added that ADASS’ survey reflects the experiences of families, “who, as a result of struggling to get essential support in place, are increasingly having to step-in to provide greater levels of care for their loved ones; putting their own health, ability to work, and other family responsibilities under threat. One in 5 people who provide unpaid care for 50 hours or more hours a week already go without any practical support whatsoever and today’s survey signals even harder times ahead.

“With an ageing population, the continued downward pressure on adult social care spending is unsustainable and is already leaving hundreds of thousands of people without even the most basic support. Urgent and significant investment in social care is needed not only to stop the strain on families but also to reverse the potentially devastating repercussions for the NHS and the viability of care providers that support some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”