Spending by English council rose by 3% in real terms last year, with particular pressures on learning disability services.
Provisional figures released this week by the NHS Information Centre showed expenditure rose by 5% in cash terms from £15.3bn to £16.1bn from 2007-8 to 2008-9, though learning disability spending rose by 8% in real terms to £3.8bn.
The news sparked warnings about the “unsustainable” pressures on councils in adult social care from sector leaders.
£250m to fund personal care pledge
It follows news that local authorities would be expected to find £250m in efficiency savings to fund Gordon Brown’s plan to introduce free personal care at home for people with critical needs from October 2010.
Andrew Cozens, the Local Government Association’s group strategic lead for adult social care, said this year’s spending rise was likely to have been funded by a combination of council tax increases, increased charges for service users and efficiency gains, but warned the situation was unsustainable.
Cozens said he was “bothered about the £250m” proposed to fund free personal care, which he believes the government has based on estimated efficiency savings that would come from reductions in residential care.
Spending up for all client groups
This week’s figures showed spending on residential care increased by 1% in real terms to £7.6bn, with expenditure on all client groups also increasing when inflation was taken into account.
Besides the overall hike in learning disability spending, the unit costs of providing residential and nursing care for the client group rose by 7% in real terms, from £1,047 to £1,143 per week.
David Congdon, head of campaigns and policy at Mencap, added: “We welcome the extra money being spent on learning disability but it’s not sustainable. It reflects the need for much more rigour around the green paper policies for long term funding.”
The government is currently consulting on reforming the adult care funding system following its recent green paper, though, until this week’s announcement by Brown, it was anticipated that changes would not be implemented until 2014.
This week’s figures follow the surprise news earlier this year that local authority spending on adult care had decreased by 0.5% in real terms from 2006-7 to 2007-8, though expenditure on learning disability services did rise.
Congdon said the 2008-9 rise could mean spending was “catching up” following the previous year’s fall. He also pointed to the possible effect of the £85m first tranche of the social care reform grant, designed to help councils implement personalisation, which was paid out in 2008-9.
The statistics also identified a 31% rise in real terms on spending on direct payments, which rose from £452m in 2007-8 to £605m in 2008-9.