English councils have improved for the sixth year running in the final ever star ratings, but the assessment’s significance has been questioned due to the exclusion of many users from publicly-funded adult care.
The Commission for Social Care Inspection said today that 37% of councils achieved the maximum three-star rating, up from 32% last year, while those receiving just one star fell from 19% to 13%. Exactly half scored two stars and, for the third year running, no authority received zero stars.
Twenty eight of the 150 councils saw their star rating improve, while 11 fell back. The number of councils in the CSCI’s “priority for improvement” category – those that have scored zero or one star since 2002 – fell from 12 to five.
Some distance to travel
CSCI said all five had “promising” prospects for improvement, though two still had “some distance to travel” to move out of the priority for improvement category.
The inspectorate’s chief inspector, Paul Snell, said: “There is a great deal of good work going on in local councils around England. People who do qualify for care are getting better services.”
However, the ratings measure the performance of councils in relation to care they have either funded or arranged. CSCI pointed to its government-commissioned review of eligibility criteria for services, published last month, which said those excluded from council-funded care were often left to struggle with little help.
Though eligibility thresholds for services have stabilised over the past year they had previously risen rapidly to the point where three-quarters of councils excluded those with “low” or “moderate” needs from help.
Mark Goldring, chief executive of Mencap, said: “Whilst we congratulate those councils who have made improvements over the last year, CSCI’s star ratings fail to tell the real social care story. For many people with a learning disability who have been squeezed out of the social care system due to funding shortages, the star ratings are meaningless.”
Older people’s charity Counsel and Care said: “While social care provision – for those who can access it – is improving, according to the Commission for Social Care Inspection’s (CSCI) performance report of local councils published today, the significant majority of older people and their carers remain forgotten.”
Help the Aged’s senior policy officer, Elizabeth McLennan, also highlighted the plight of those excluded from the publicly-funded care system, who “get the worst possible service because they need to arrange and pay for care with no help at all from their council”.
And though the Local Government Association said the results were “encouraging” and staff deserved “great credit”, it too made reference to high eligibility thresholds, resulting from “severe financial pressures” on councils.
From next year, the star ratings, along with all other existing assessment systems for councils, will be replaced by the comprehensive area assessment, which will assess council performance as a whole, both singly and in partnership with other agencies.
It will be informed by an assessment of authorities’ adult social care functions, carried out next year by the Care Quality Commission, which takes over CSCI’s work in April 2009.
- See where councils performed well and less well this year.
- Have your say on the validitiy of star ratings on CareSpace.