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08.11.16

‘Legal action’ warning over social care shortages ahead of Autumn Statement

Three major health think tanks have urged the government to deliver more funding for social care in the Autumn Statement, saying that financial pressures are so acute that councils could face legal challenges for failing to meet their responsibilities.

The joint briefing, from the King’s Fund, Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation, says that social care spending will face a deficit of £1.9bn by 2017-18 and £2.3bn by the end of this Parliament.

Richard Humphries, assistant director of policy at the King’s Fund, told the BBC that councils “could start seeing people taking legal action” if they were unable to fulfil their duties under the Care Act because of funding shortages.

He also said: “Cuts to social care funding are leaving older and disabled people reliant on an increasingly threadbare local authority safety net. For many, the care they get is based not on what they need but on what they can afford and where they live.”

The government has committed to creating a country which works for everyone, noted Humphries, and they “now need to match this with action by using the Autumn Statement to address the critical state of social care”.

The report added that spending by local authorities on social care for older people has fallen by 9% between 2009-10 and 2014-15.

Councils have then passed on the reductions to care providers in the form of reduced fees or below inflation increases, at a time when providers are coping with the pressure of higher regulatory standards, staff shortages and the cost of the National Living Wage.

Recent research from the United Kingdom Home Care Association showed a £500m shortfall in council funding to care providers.

So far, 59 councils have had home care contracts terminated, affecting 3,700 people, while three large national home care providers have withdrawn from the publicly funded market or are planning to do so.

Overall, the number of older people receiving care has reduced by at least 26%, with more than 40,000 fewer people receiving care and a further reduction expected in 2015-16.

The report reiterated recent concerns from the Health Select Committee and CQC that social care cuts were adding to pressures on the NHS, leaving more older people in hospital beds unnecessarily.

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the Health Foundation, said: “On too many occasions over the last few years the approach to funding for the NHS and care system has been to rob Peter to pay Paul.

“Social care cut to protect the NHS, budgets to train new doctors and nurses reduced to fund care now, capital budgets raided to meet day-to-day costs.”

She added that it is absolutely clear that this is not sustainable and has undermined the drive to improve efficiency.

“While the pressures on the health service are very real, the case to prioritise social care funding in the Autumn Statement is compelling,” noted Charlesworth.

Last week, members of the Health Select Committee also urged chancellor Philip Hammond to prioritise funding for social care in the Autumn Statement.

Responding to the report, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA community wellbeing board, said: “Unless social care is properly funded, there is a real risk to the quality and safety of care, and being able to meet basic needs such as ensuring people are washed and dressed or helped out of bed.”

She backed the calls for more funding in the Autumn Statement, saying it was necessary to ensure “a fair care system”.

The briefing also warned that measures such as devolved business rates and the social care precept will bring in more income for wealthier local authorities compared to poorer ones.

It added that the £1.5bn Better Care Fund, which is back-loaded and will not be fully delivered until 2019-20, will not solve the immediate funding crisis and is not consistent with front-loaded NHS funding.

The think tanks urged the government to bring forward the Better Care Fund money in the Autumn Statement. However, the report said that this would only help address the immediate pressures on the NHS and the care sector, and “fundamental reform” was also needed.

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