Former health secretary Andy Burnham has urged the coalition to drop its pledge to increase NHS spending in real terms during this parliament to avoid substantial cuts to social care.
In an interview with Community Care ahead of next week’s emergency Budget, the Labour leadership contender warned of a looming crisis in care funding in the next two to three years as cutbacks take hold across the country.
The 40-year-old has made the reform of care funding for older and disabled people a central plank in his pitch to become leader of the Labour Party.
Burnham said: “I think we will have a crisis in care funding in the next two to three years, where services in some parts of the country are almost pared back to the point of becoming almost non-existent.”
He said this would be exacerbated by real terms increases to NHS spending, though said the health funding pledge could be counter-productive as resulting social care cuts would lead to more people spending time in hospital.
Burnham said: “Some councils are really digging into social care right now and are paring back eligibility for support and I think that ultimately comes back on to the health service.”
Before the election, Labour promised to protect “frontline” NHS services – meaning spending would not be cut in real terms – during this parliament, though this fell short of the Tory promise – adopted by the coalition – to increase NHS spending overall.
His comments come amid widespread warnings from sector leaders about the potential impact of cuts to social care.
In a letter to care services minister Paul Burstow, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services president Richard Jones warned that greater efficiency by adult care departments are “unlikely to deliver the level of savings that are going to be required” by government.
He added: “Adass will speak out strongly on behalf of citizens who need care and support if budget allocations prevent vulnerable people from getting the support they need.”
The charity Age UK called for the government to use the Budget to commit to protecting older people’s social care services from cuts over the coming spending review period, 2011-14.
Research published by the charity in March showed a £1.75bn gap would emerge by 2013 between spending on older people’s care and the funding required to keep pace with demand, based on Labour’s spending plans. However, the coalition is expected to cut deeper than this in social care, making the spending gap higher.
Michelle Miller, charity director at Age UK, said: “The Chancellor has said he will limit the impact of cuts on the most vulnerable in our society. He should put his money where his mouth is and promise right now that care in old age will be protected in his spending review.