The level of unmet need for social care is rising at an ‘alarming’ rate, campaigners have warned.
An analysis by Age UK found 1.2m over 65s have some level of unmet basic care needs including washing and dressing – an 18% increase on the previous year. The charity estimated 291,400 of this group would meet the Care Act eligibility criteria, on the grounds they struggle with three or more daily living tasks, but a quarter currently receive no help at all.
Social services directors said the “extremely worrying” findings reflected the “chronic underfunding” of services in recent years.
The government said it had given councils powers to raise “extra money” for social care and was committed to finding a sustainable long-term solution for the sector.
Ministers used the autumn statement to hand councils extra flexibility in their use of the social care precept, on top of existing funding for social care provided through the Better Care Fund.
However, at the time experts warned the funding was “a fraction” of what was needed. Age UK’s analysis found services required at least an extra £4.8bn a year on current funding levels and called on the government to provide “emergency” funding in the Spring budget.
‘Daily living tasks’
The charity’s findings were based on analysis of data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Age UK defined a person as needing care if they were unable to carry out everyday activities without assistance. These activities were divided into essential activities of daily living, such as washing or eating, and instrumental tasks, such as paying bills, managing medication or preparing meals.
Age UK said the Care Act 2014 does not draw a “precise distinction” between the two groups of activities, but it was “widely agreed” that an individual unable to meet three of the essential activities would meet the eligibility criteria to qualify for social care support. These outcomes include managing personal care, nutrition and going to the toilet.
The report also found that the rising levels of need and declining access to council-funded social care had increased pressure on unpaid carers. It warned that there were now “serious questions as to whether we are reaching the practical limit of this informal capacity for caring”.
Last month, care minister David Mowat told a parliamentary select committee that tackling the care crisis would require people to take more responsibility for caring for their parents.
However, while the overall numbers of carers are rising, there had not been a substantial increase in the proportion of the population providing care, the Age UK report found.
Analysis by the charity found the number of people who received informal support from family or friends had only increased by 2% since 2002-03.
“This strongly suggests that the provision of informal care has not been able to expand significantly to fill the gap left by declining provision of formal care services,” the report said.
Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, said: “Unless something changes the crisis will certainly deepen this year and next, and we think there is now a real risk of a complete collapse in social care in the worst affected areas.
“Some older people and their families are already telling us that they simply cannot find any carers where they live, and we are also hearing of vulnerable older people receiving council-funded care whose help has been significantly reduced, leaving them to manage alone for many hours at a time.”
Margaret Willcox, president elect of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said: “This report is extremely worrying, yet unsurprising, and reflects the concerns of the whole sector united in the belief that adult social care is at risk of failure to chronic underfunding.
“Only genuine new money will solve the crisis. It will only get worse while we wait for a solution. More older and disabled people will not get the dignified support they rely upon, an even greater toll will be placed on the 6.5m family members and other carers, increasing pressures will be placed on our hospitals and even more care homes will close, leading to growing gaps and failures in the care market.”
A government spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressures of an ageing population, which is why we are giving local authorities access to £7.6 billion of new money for adult social care.
“This government has gone further to integrate health and social care than any other before it. We have brought budgets together for the first time through the Better Care Fund and given the NHS an extra £10 billion per year by 2020/21 to fund its own plan to build a more responsive, modern health system.
“But this is not solely about money, which is why we are working to find a long-term, sustainable solution which helps local authorities learn from each other to raise standards across the whole system.
Note: This story was updated on 20 Feb to clarify how Age UK reached its figure on people likely to be eligible for Care Act support