Editorial Comment: Keepers of the ration book

You could be forgiven for thinking that our system for assessing who should receive state-funded care only works for people in the midst of a crisis.

Community Care has conducted two pieces of research in the past year suggesting that access to social services is more restrictive than ever.

Our first, back in June, showed that 76% of councils are only providing services for those with substantial or critical needs.

Our second piece of research, released this week, shows that frontline social workers are under increasing managerial pressure to prevent access to services. Budgetary concerns clearly dominate day-to-day practice.

Some will ask “what’s new?”, others will say “social workers should be cost conscious – it’s public money”.

Unfortunately, this ignores how the problem has intensified. In many parts, social workers are fast becoming rationers first, problem-solvers second.

Tightening eligibility criteria also flies in the face of a more preventive approach, with the research showing that services for lower and moderate needs are being closed.

It’s a moot point whether this matters. There’s scant evidence on the effectiveness of lower level services. But, equally, there’s little to suggest that tightening eligibility criteria saves money.

All of this makes next year’s green paper on the funding of care incredibly important – and it’s vital that frontline social workers help shape it.

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Mike Broad

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