ADASS reports tighter budget controls as downturn bites

One in seven councils has reported a squeeze on adult social care budgets because of the recession, a survey has found.

But demand for services is increasing: the poll of 66 English authorities by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services showed “significant increases” in referrals for welfare advice, mental health and homelessness in the last six months.

At the same time, 15% of councils are experiencing budget cuts as a result of the downturn, a figure Adass representative Bill Hodson predicted would rise in the wake of the massive deficit in public finances. Figures released this week showed UK government borrowing rose to £90bn in 2008-9.

Recruitment freezes

Hodson, director of adult services at York Council, said: “We know that things are going to get a lot worse in terms of corporate funding, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many people are already recalculating their budgets.”

The report, published with the Local Government Association, showed 88% of councils were seeing an increase in job applications, although 15% reported job freezes or staffing reductions.

Money worries

It also showed 65% of respondents had seen an increase in demand for welfare advice services, 36% for mental health and substance misuse, and 29% in homelessness referrals.

Hodson cited a report by the Mental Health Foundation which showed 63% of people were more frightened or anxious because of the the downturn.

However, Sarah Pickup, director of adult care services at Hertfordshire Council, questioned whether the increase in referrals, apart from welfare and benefits advice, was linked to the recession.

Directors discuss strategies

In a workshop about local government approaches towards the recession, Pickup said authorities should take advantage of low interest rates by offering more deferred payment schemes to service users.

Hodson said many councils were offering practical guides and leaflets to residents with advice on money-saving and healthy-eating.

However, Martin Cheeseman, director of housing and community care in the London Borough of Brent, said more “targeted efforts” were needed. He called on councils to focus on their role as employers by expanding training and employment opportunities for local people.

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