Almost £2 billion less is now being spent on care for vulnerable older or disabled people than just two years ago as nationwide cuts to reduce the deficit take effect.
Social services chiefs said the figures showed there was now a “desperate need” for politicians of all political parties urgently to agree a solution to the looming crisis in care for the elderly to cope with Britain’s ageing population.
They warned that unless an agreement could be found urgently on how to fund care, they would be forced to ration services with only those in the most desperate need.
Cross-party talks on the subject have been going on behind-the-scenes and a Government white paper on care is expected shortly – but without a funding settlement.
In a confidential survey, the Association of Directors Adult Social Services (ADASS) asked its members to give details of how much they were spending on social care in the current financial year as well as issues such as fees.
The responses from 145 councils showed that spending on social care is being reduced by £891 million this year even after more than £280 million was diverted from the NHS to help shore up the crisis-hit care sector.
It equates to a cut of six per cent in social care funding his year - taking the total spent across all councils to £13.5 billion. But the survey showed that councils were attempting to shield the most vulnerable people from the worst effects of the cuts.
Most of the reductions – £688 million – were made through belt-tightening initiatives and so-called “efficiency” savings.
Fees for people in residential care have been increased by two per cent on average while councils saved £113 million by directly cutting front line services to elderly or disabled people. Overall only seven per cent of councils tightened their eligibility criteria for care this year.
Sarah Pickup, President of ADASS, said: "With pressure from care home and home care providers to reflect rising costs in the prices we pay for care; charges to people who use services – often already at the maximum permitted level – rising demand; and a downward-forward trajectory for councils' funding, it could not be clearer that there is a the desperate need for politicians from all parties quickly to find an answer to how we, as a nation, are going to adequately fund social care services in the future.”
Liz Kendall, the shadow care minister, said: “The results of the ADASS survey provide yet more evidence that our care system is in crisis and has now reached breaking point.
“Councils are doing their best to save money through changing the way services are provided and working more closely with the NHS, but faced with huge Government cuts, they are being forced to reduce services and increase care charges for some of the most vulnerable people in our society in order to balance their books.”
Richard Humphries, senior Fellow at The King’s Fund health think-tank said: "This survey once again highlights the growing pressure on social care services.
"With further local government budget cuts to follow, it is not alarmist to warn of an impending crisis in social care and the risk that this will undermine the performance of the NHS."
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This report is yet more evidence that the issue of social care funding needs to be urgently resolved.
"It is particularly worrying that more than £110m has been stripped out of the budget by reducing services in just one year.
"It is often the NHS that picks up unmet and escalating needs in light of the financial pressures the social care system is now facing.
“We are currently seeing far too many people trapped in a ‘revolving door’ between community and hospital services. Equally, it is nursing staff and the NHS who deal with the pressures of delayed transfers between hospital and community settings, referrals and confusion over who pays for what."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "In 2010 the Government recognised the pressure on the social care system and prioritised it by investing £7.2bn up to 2015. But we were clear that the money should not be used for business as usual - we challenged councils to increase productivity and spend the money more wisely.
"The headline figure in this survey is not a cut. In fact it shows that councils are working hard to spend money in smarter ways to deliver care and support, and this year, they have got even better at doing that."
Sourced from The Telegraph, 14th June 2012.