Budget cuts have left tens of thousands of adults with mental health problems without key social care support that could help prevent their health from deteriorating to crisis point, a leading charity has warned.
An analysis by Mind found that the number of adults with mental health needs who received social care support has fallen by at least 30,000 since 2005, a drop of 21%. Cuts to local authority social care budgets – the majority of which have hit since 2009 – have left a funding shortfall for care of up to £260 million, the charity said.
Mind extracted the data from research published by the London School of Economics in December last year. When demographic changes are accounted for, the fall in the number of mental health service users in receipt of social care support since 2005 could be as high as 68,000 – a 48% drop. The reduction in the number of people with physical health needs receiving social care support was 33%.
The report also found that almost a third (30%) of councils had halved the number of people with mental health problems receiving social care support.
Paul Farmer, Mind’s chief executive, said the findings suggested the government was failing to “look at the bigger picture” around support for people with mental health needs.
“In reality it is cheaper to provide preventative services like social care, which help people affected by mental health problems at an earlier stage, in comparison to crisis services that are currently understaffed and overstretched,” he said.
Farmer also urged the government to introduce a ‘more reasonable’ national threshold for social care than the current plans to set it at a level equivalent to the ‘substantial’ band used by the vast majority of local authorities. The powers to set a national threshold for care are included in the government’s Care Bill, which is expected to complete its journey through Parliament shortly.
Frontline social workers have also raised concerns over funding for services. More than half (50.5%) of 111 mental health social workers surveyed by The College of Social Work (TCSW) said investment in statutory social work for mental health was ‘poor’ in their area. Over a third (35.3%) rated standards of mental health care as ‘poor’ and almost half (47%) reported problems accessing personal budgets for people with mental health needs.
Steve Chamberlain, chair of TCSW’s network of Approved Mental Health Professionals, said the cuts to social care support highlighted by Mind could be “the tip of the iceberg”.
“It looks like the next two or three years is likely to see even more cuts to funding for local authorities. Thresholds for social care have already gone up in many areas as there is less money to go around. It feels like we are increasingly unable to intervene earlier and work with people to access social elements that can help to maintain their mental health and avoid crises,” he said.
Faye Wilson, chair of the British Association of Social Workers mental health forum, also said that rising thresholds for social care were leading to less preventive work.
“If you really want to support someone’s recovery it’s about things like supporting them to integrate into their community, helping them to access employment or benefits, supporting them to get their life back. The support cannot be restricted to just the healthcare part. You take those other social support components away and you’ve got a real problem,” she said.
Sarah Norman, co-chair of the Association for the Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) mental health network, said the research had to be viewed in the context of significant reductions to local authority budgets in the past three years and a general drive to reduce dependency on services.
“Throughout, social care services have done their utmost to maintain services for people with mental health issues, and to extend as far as possible the principles of personalisation in working with them,” she said.
Adass believes that the government’s proposed threshold for care, under the Care Bill, is likely to widen rather than reduce eligibility for social care, Norman added.
A Department of Health spokesperson said the government expected NHS and local authorities to ensure “equal priority” is given to mental health and physical health services when making spending decisions.
“We have given councils significant extra funding for social care and are going further by creating our £3.8bn Better Care Fund to invest in joined up services that keep people living well and independently for as long as possible. Our national eligibility threshold will be set at a level that will allow local authorities to maintain the same level of access to support for those who are eligible when they move to the new care and support system in April 2015,” she added.