Thousands set to lose out on social services support

Support for thousands of vulnerable people may be slashed as budgetary pressures force councils to raise eligibility thresholds to the highest level. Picture: Rex Features

Support for thousands of vulnerable people may be slashed as budgetary pressures force councils to raise eligibility thresholds to the highest level.

Councils are already facing the ongoing demographic pressures of an ageing population and the high costs of supporting people with learning disabilities but, until the government’s austerity drive, most were not considering raising eligibility criteria to critical.

But the added burden of a possible 25% cut in council funding from 2011-15 as well as cuts to councils this year has brought about a change in thinking, according to a Local Government Association policy chief.

Andrew Cozens, the LGA’s group strategic lead on adult social care, said: “There hasn’t been a substantial increase in the number of authorities that have raised their eligibility criteria to critical, but most are saying that’s on your mind, it’s something that you are thinking about for next year.”

Cozens was speaking at a summit of council social care leaders yesterday.

His fears were confirmed by Philip Gretton, Worcestershire Council’s cabinet member for adult and community services, who said: “Many of us are contemplating going to critical only.”

Cozens said these concerns would be reflected in the Local Government Association’s submission to the Department of Health for this autumn’s comprehensive spending review, which will set government spending limits for 2011-15. He said the LGA would urge the NHS, which is protected from spending cuts, to fund social care because this would benefit health services.

Raising thresholds to critical would exclude people with substantial needs from support. Under the fair access to care services system, this group is defined as people unable to carry out most domestic or personal care tasks, family or other responsibilities, and may be at risk of or have suffered abuse.

Since April, 72% of councils have set their eligibility threshold at substantial, 24% moderate and just 1% critical, according to the LGA and Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ annual budget survey, published this month. Almost all respondents had decided not to change eligibility criteria in 2010-11 but big cuts to budgets will come through in 2011.

The survey also found that the biggest cost pressures on councils came from care home placements for people with learning disabilities, with 61% of councils reporting increased demand in this area and 67% saying users’ needs were growing more intense and costly on average in 2009-10.

Some 87% of authorities said they expected additional costs in 2010-11 as a result of demographic changes.

Care services minister Paul Burstow told the summit it was key for local authorities to ensure they were getting value for money and to look to work with the NHS.

“In terms of meeting the deficit reduction challenge that the country has inherited, the challenge is not to do the things in the way we used to do; the challenge is to look for ways to do things differently,” he said.

  • What do you think would be the impact of an increase in eligibility criteria and is it being considered in your council? Have your say on CareSpace and vote in our poll.

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