Residential care cuts will damage services, say experts

The pre-budget report announcement that residential care will need to save £250m by 2013 could damage services, social care experts have warned.

Richard Humphries, senior fellow for social care at The King’s Fund, said the £250m saving from residential care by helping people stay in their own homes was unrealistic for a system already chronically underfunded.

“We should be finding ways of putting money into the system, not squeezing every drop out of it,” he said.

Safety of vulnerable people

Gary FitzGerald, chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse, said the savings may be made at the expense of safety because vulnerable people would have to manage their own care. “The money’s probably being saved by removing the extra layer of responsibility,” he said.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) said some councils were already planning measures to control costs.

“Some local authorites are planning efficiency savings of more than 4% next year,” said John Jackson, joint chair of Adass’ resources committee. “It is naïve to assume that local authorities can simply make further efficiency savings of at least 1% more, in addition to those already found, in the absence of any new government initiatives to help local government or promote closer working and better resource utilisation between the NHS and local government.”

However, others were upbeat. Stephen Burke, chief executive of Counsel and Care, said: “I think it’s achievable and realistic but it is a question of local authorities, together with the NHS, finding ways to support people to stay in their own home. But it is also about older people receiving better financial advice.”

Chancellor Alistair Darling’s pre-budget report also requires mental health services to work in a more integrated, efficient way as part of plans to make £10bn efficiency savings in the NHS each year by 2013. However, frontline services, which absorb 95% of spending, are to be protected and will see their budgets raised in line with inflation over the same period.

Long-term consequences

Prof John Appleby, chief economist at The King’s Fund, warned about the long-term consequences for remaining services. “Clarity is needed about what is at risk if the ‘unprotected’ 5% is cut – equivalent to about £5bn for the NHS in England,” he said. “There may be savings to be made in administration costs but, if training or research is cut, this could have consequences for future productivity and quality.”

Meanwhile, Age Concern and Help the Aged attacked the chancellor’s decision to protect the NHS budgets, saying they left social care to bear the brunt of the cuts. “Ministers have said that addressing the crisis in the care system is one of their top priorities, but the chancellor has failed to match this rhetoric with a commitment on funding,” said head of public policy Andrew Harrop.

David Congdon, head of campaigns at learning disability charity Mencap, said the report gave no indication of sustainable funding for the needs of people with learning disabilities.

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