MPs rubbish government social care claims

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MPs have rubbished government claims that councils can maintain current levels of adult social care without raising thresholds.

The government has repeatedly claimed that councils have no cause to raise eligibility criteria, despite a reduction in central government funding of 28% over the next four years.

A report today by MPs on the health select committee, chaired by former health secretary Stephen Dorrell, has concluded that councils cannot promise to keep eligibility criteria at current levels.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley told the committee that annual efficiency savings of 3%, combined with pay freezes and the funding settlement, which includes an extra £1bn a year in funding for care from the NHS, was enough to sustain current care provision. “It is not sufficient to do everything; it is sufficient to sustain the position we are in,” he said.

But the MPs disagreed. The report stated: “The evidence submitted to us, including the evidence submitted by the government itself, does not allow us to conclude that the spending review settlement, coupled with the pay freeze, is enough to allow councils to ‘sustain’ care levels without restricting eligibility criteria.

“Our analysis shows that, depending on spending decisions by individual councils, the social care sector will need to deliver efficiency gains of up to 3.5% per annum throughout the spending review period to avoid reducing their levels of care.”

Richard Jones, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, backed the report’s conclusions. “Social services directors will make every efficiency saving that they capable of,” he said. “But I fear that, as MPs have confirmed today, it will be impossible in some authorities to maintain the standards of care we provide without restricting eligibility for those services.”

The challenge facing councils was underlined by the announcement of the local government settlement yesterday, said Chris Ham, chief executive of the King’s Fund.

“This once again highlights the importance of the Dilnot Commission’s work in devising a new settlement for social care funding that will stand the test of time,” he said.

The MPs said that, although removing the ring-fencing from social care funding from government was desirable if services were to be improved, it added a further level of uncertainty to the prospect of maintaining their standard.

The report also concluded that improving the interface between health and social care was “mission critical” to delivering the savings outlined in the spending review.

Although it said the transfer of £1bn from the NHS to social care represented a step in the right direction, the government needed to do more to lay down a policy framework. “It is not enough for the government to exhort change in this area: there must be a formal policy infrastructure that recognises the importance of achieving this,” said the report.

It went on to warn that the financial pressures on councils could hinder efforts to increase interaction with health.

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