Editorial Comment: The eligibility crisis

While most councils continue to tighten their eligibility criteria for social care, some appear keen to buck the trend. Northumberland may at least relax its rules to include people with substantial needs, while Sunderland has set its criteria to provide a service for everyone all the way down to low-level needs. This is against the backdrop of a Commission for Social Care Inspection report showing that 73% of councils are likely to have thresholds set at substantial or critical by next March.

Care services minister Ivan Lewis has warned councils to address the widening policy of austerity in social care, while Coventry community services director John Bolton arrives at the Department of Health next month with a brief to sort out the mess. Of particular interest will be policies like Sunderland’s, where low-level care is funded to “prevent more serious problems” arising later.

The truth is that too little is known about preventive services’s ability to forestall later, costlier interventions. Bolton recently said that some forms of prevention only increased dependency and resources should be targeted on “reablement” programmes. Others take a less restrictive view, but more research is urgently needed if the eligibility crisis is to be resolved.

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