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One-tenth of councils cut social care spending by 25%, warns IFS

Council spending on social care per adult fell by 11% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2015-16, while one in 10 councils have cut their social care budgets by more than a quarter, a report released today by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has revealed.

The figures, put together by the IFS alongside the Health Foundation, analysed council spending from 2009 to 2016 and found that as a whole, spending by councils has fallen dramatically over this time period.

Figures suggest that around six in every seven local authorities made at least some cut to their social care spending during this time. On average, spending fell the most in London (18%) and metropolitan areas (16%) such as Greater Manchester, Tyneside and Greater Birmingham. Outside these areas, cuts have been steeper in the north than the south.

Significant concern was also raised about the significant variation of social care spending across the country. Around 10% of local authorities spent less than £325 per adult resident, while, in sharp contrast, 10% spent more than £445.  

Some of this disparity is down to certain areas having a larger population of elderly people requiring public services. However, the IFS warned that this only explains around 13% of the variation in spending across councils.

Polly Simpson, research economist at the institute and an author of the report, also explained: “The spending cuts analysed in our report have been accompanied by a substantial fall in the number of people receiving social care: down 25% across England, between 2009-10 and 2013-14 alone.”

She warned that cuts had been delivered in part by removing care for many people and only being able to provide care for those with the most complex needs.

“What all this means for the quality of care received, the welfare of those no longer receiving care, and other services like the NHS requires further research to answer,” added Simpson.

Another author of the report and associate director of the IFS, David Phillips, said that the disparity in spending across authorities deemed to have very similar spending needs by the government stood out in the report.

“Whether this means spending needs assessments are inaccurate, or reflects differences in available funding or the priority placed on social care relative to other services or council tax levels, is unclear,” Phillips argued.

“But it emphasises that the government has got its work cut out in its ‘Fair Funding Review’ of how to measure different councils’ spending needs from 2019 onwards. That debate could get quite fraught.”

Long-term solution needed

Local authorities claimed the IFS findings reflected the “historic and chronic underfunding of adult social care” by successive UK governments which had forced councils to make tough budgetary decisions, including closing down services for vulnerable people.

“Councils have protected spending on adult social care as much as possible, but significant pressures of an ageing population, inflation and the National Living Wage are piling pressure onto our social care system,” Linda Thomas, vice chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing board, said.

“Councils are doing all they can to protect adult social care budgets and the £2bn for adult social care in the Spring Budget is a significant step towards protecting the services caring for the most vulnerable in our communities over the next few years.

“However, short-term pressures remain and we still desperately need a long-term solution to tackling the funding crisis to help provide care and support for people to enable them to live more independent, fulfilled lives.”

Today’s findings come on the same day that a report released by the House of Lords Select Committee on the long-term sustainability of the NHS blasted recent governments for a ‘short-sighted’ approach to funding for the NHS. It also recommended that the government set up an independent Office for Health and Care Sustainability to be a trusted voice to hold the government to account and ensure policies are created with a focus on long-term goals, rather than just looking five years into the future.

But Thomas warned: “It is impossible to plan for the long-term without long-term funding.

“No matter what additional help is given to adult social care, if local government funding overall remains under pressure, adult social care faces further savings as it is the biggest budget within councils.”

She also took the opportunity to again call for councils to be put at the centre of future decision-making in setting adult social care budgets, arguing it was inappropriate to use an outdated formula that both government and local authorities agree is no longer fit for purpose as a measure of need to spend.

Margaret Willcox, president-elect of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), claimed the report was a timely and appropriate reminder of the severity of the crisis facing adult social care.

“Councils have protected spending on adult social care as much as possible but significant pressures caused by people living longer and with increased complex needs and the welcome National Living Wage means the ability to identify further savings have all but run out,” she explained.

Willcox argued that the fresh £2bn for adult social care for the next three years will help plug the funding gap in the sector, but should only be seen as a short-term solution to a deeper problem.

But a government spokesman said: “We recognise the challenges councils face in delivering social care and the need for a long-term sustainable solution.

“That’s why we’re giving councils an extra £2bn to help deliver these services, taking the total to an additional £9.25 billion over the remainder of this Parliament.  

“It’s also why we’re committed to having a fair and more sustainable way of funding adult social care for the future, especially given people are living longer. We’ll be setting out our proposals in a forthcoming green paper.”  

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