Councils ill-prepared to meet ageing challenge

Councils are ill-prepared to deal with the financial costs of an ageing population, including savings possible from preventive services, the Audit Commission said today.

In a report entitled Under Pressure, it urged local authorities to pre-empt public spending cuts by acting to prevent, reduce or delay the need for social care among the rising number of older people.

The inspectorate said this could be achieved through “small investments” in services, such as housing and leisure, but warned that most medium-term financial planning by councils did not use demographics or information on the impact of preventive work.

The report mirrors a Department of Health guide to improving efficiency in adult social care through investment in prevention and cutting care home costs, published last year.

But the commission said councils needed to go further than a suggested DH target to cut spending on residential care to 40% of adult social care expenditure by benchmarking themselves against other councils and using data on the unit costs of services.

Audit Commission chairman Michael O’Higgins said: “Most older people live at home. The longer they do, the happier they are and the less they cost the taxpayer.

“There are huge financial pressures on councils in the years ahead, but redesigning services and exploiting technology can make them better, more efficient and more personal.”

The report called for councils to update commissioning strategies to emphasise the importance of reducing care costs.

Responding to the report, the chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, David Rogers, said: “Councils recognise the significance of this challenge. This report underestimates much of what is being done up and down the country to help improve the lives of older people while at the same time providing value for money to the taxpayer. Councils are acutely aware that the future will mean doing things differently to cope with an ageing population, developing new technology with less funding from the public purse, and are already making huge strides to adapt to the future.”

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