More than 50 social work and care management posts could be lost under cutbacks being considered by Newcastle council.
The proposals would also risk higher caseloads for children’s social workers and mean longer waiting times for assessments, reduced care packages and fewer face-to-face reviews for some adults.
The council says the cuts are the result of it having to find £30 million of savings in the 2016/17 financial year due to a combination of “government spending cuts, new burdens and unfunded cost pressures”.
Adults’ services job cuts
The council is proposing to shed 30 full-time equivalent posts, to save £1.2m in adults’ social care teams responsible for first contact, assessment, review and most safeguarding work. This is equivalent to one-fifth of this workforce of social workers, occupational therapists and social work assistants. The cuts do not affect the council’s learning disability and specialist safeguarding and Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards team.
The reductions would be achieved by getting service users to do self-assessments and reviews or, if that is not possible, handling reviews by phone. Face-to-face reviews would only be available for the highest risk cases, while the support planning process would also be “streamlined” for people without direct payments.
Longer waiting times
However, the proposals would also reduce the overall capacity of these teams, meaning they would have to prioritise work on high-risk and complex areas, such as safeguarding and emergency response. As a result, service users not at immediate risk would face longer waiting times for assessments and reviews.
In learning disabilities, the council plans to create a temporary team of social workers to review the needs of the 700 long-term service users with a view to making savings on care packages.
Given the fluctuating needs of this group, the service would shift from funding the top end of a person’s needs to funding the lower end of their needs with the flexibility to increase care levels during weeks when needs were higher than the baseline level.
While this approach is only expected to yield net savings of £40,000 in 2016-17, due to the costs of employing the temporary team, it is expected to generate further savings in future years, when staffing levels reduce again.
Personal budgets cuts
The levels of personal budgets for some other service users and carers would also be cut in line with the national eligibility thresholds for both groups set by the Care Act 2014.
The council is proposing to save £1.17m through reduced personal budgets for adults receiving personal care and support at home, by reviewing their needs in line with the national eligibility criteria for service users.
In addition, it would seek to meet eligible needs more efficiently, including by reducing the number and length of care visits, and signpost people to alternative services to meet some of their eligible needs.
Risk of legal challenge
The council said that, in comparison with similar councils, it spent more on people’s care and support packages per head.
It added: “We therefore believe that it is reasonable to bring our expenditure more into line with that of other comparable Councils, although we recognise that for many people this will result in a reduction in the level of support that they currently receive and that there will almost certainly be an increase in complaints and probably some legal challenges.”
To mitigate this risk, it would spend £200,000 increasing social work capacity to review needs
For carers, access to personal budgets would be restricted to people providing most or all care to adults with higher-level needs, saving £319,000. This will exclude carers who provide most or all care to adults with more moderate needs, and those providing some care to adults with higher-level needs. The council said this was in line with the Care Act eligibility threshold for carers.
Council tax rise ‘not enough’
The cuts to adult services are being tabled despite Newcastle intending to make use of the government’s decision to allow local authorities to increase council tax by 2% to fund adult social care, on top of a further 2% rise for other services.
“The 2% council tax precept the government say can be used to fund adult social care and in Newcastle this will generate £1.7 million but this is nowhere near enough to address the scale of the financial pressures we face,” said a spokesperson for the council.
Children’s services plans
Job losses are also proposed in children’s social care, which is set to be restructured to focus more on early help in the hope that this will reduce demand. The losses would amount to 28.5 full-time posts, 6% of the total.
Other changes to children’s services including scaling back participation work with families, ending the council’s contribution to the local CAMHS social work service and establishing a regional adoption agency.
The authority said the changes would save it £1.42 million from its £15.5m gross children’s social care budget. However, the council admitted that the changes are likely to make it “very challenging” to maintain reasonable caseloads for its children’s social workers.
“The council has worked hard to protect services for vulnerable people in the face of government cuts and rising demand,” said a spokesperson. “Caring for vulnerable people is by far the biggest part of the council’s budget, and the only way we can achieve the levels of saving we now have to make is by reducing spend in some of these areas.
“Any reduction in social care is regrettable and this may lead to longer waiting times for service users who are at lower risk. The way we deliver social care is changing and we are making much greater use of data analysis and insights to identify children and adults who are most at risk to help target resources to people who need our support most.”
Other budget proposals made by the council include:
- Charging some parents who have children receiving support under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 or who are in care under voluntary arrangements (section 20), to save £17,000.
- Ceasing to fund telecare for service users, who would have to fund it themselves, saving £1.2m.
The consultation on the plans ends on 31 January and revised proposals will be submitted on 22 February, based on the consultation responses. These will be voted on by the council in March.