Adult care departments in England have made cuts worth about £1bn this year to cope with rising demand and tight budget settlements from government.
The finding emerged in a survey by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services - completed by all but a handful of councils with adult care responsibilities - and is the first indication of the gravity of cuts to adult care this year.
The £1bn savings have come despite the additional £648m for adult care made through the NHS this year.
It remains unclear whether the cuts revealed by Adass will be greater than the rise in overall costs necessitated by demographic and other spending pressures. The association refused to reveal the full survey results.
Adass found that councils expected to make 70% of the savings through efficiencies and service redesign, including shifting spending into prevention and reablement services, integrating services with the NHS and working with independent providers.
However, it found a quarter of reductions would come from the frontline. In 13% of councils these would be at least partly met by increasing eligibility criteria.
"Councils will do everything they can to reduce the need to spend on long-term care through advice, information, prevention and reablement and by ensuring that value for money is achieved," said Adass.
"However, this year's savings targets in councils are just the beginning of a three-four year programme of reductions. Demographic pressures will not abate and councils' ability to find alternatives to service reductions will inevitably reduce over time."
The government expects the overall budgets of councils with social services responsibilities to contract by 4.7% this year, after the NHS money is included. However, this does not account for increasing demographic costs, which Adass believes amount to £425m in 2011-12 alone, due to the rising number of older people and people with learning disabilities who need substantial levels of support.
Adass found that 83% of councils (122) have at least a "substantial" threshold for care, with six of these having a "critical" threshold, in line with findings from a Community Care survey of authorities last year.
Twenty-two provide support to service users with moderate care needs and four provide for those with low care needs, found Adass.
New Adass president Peter Hay said this month that the current model of social care was unsustainable and spoke of a "new adult social care offer" with investment in prevention, reablement and better information and advice, alongside tightened eligibility criteria for formal care services.
However, the survey findings drew an angry response from Age UK.
“The safety of very vulnerable older people is being put at risk by these cuts," said charity director Michelle Mitchell. "Taking services away from the most frail and disabled older people is not only inhumane, it is also counter-productive, since costs are simply passed to the NHS.
“These cuts increase the physical burdens on many family carers – and in some cases the rising charges will also result in service users and their families being forced to pay thousands of pounds extra“
“Local authorities are responsible for looking after the most disabled and vulnerable. Some of these cuts could even prove illegal under disability discrimination laws or under the Human Rights Act if the support people receive falls below the level that people need to live with dignity and in safety."
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