Adults with care and support needs are being caused “huge distress” due to cuts to care packages and increased charges, as local authorities attempt to “claw back” money, social care charities say.
The increased charges are leaving many in fear they might fall into debt and having to make difficult choices, like whether to have food and heating or care.
It comes as providers warn that local authority changes to care fee rates for 2021-22 will not match the increase in costs they are facing.
Four in five reporting cuts or increased charges
Social Care Future, a campaign group looking to change the nature of social care, in conjunction with user-led coalition Inclusion London and the Be Human Movement, have drawn up a dossier containing testimonies of basic support being cut and new charges introduced.
Of the 250 people who have responded to the survey so far, 81% stated they had faced cuts in packages or increased charges during the pandemic, with 54% specifically reporting increased charges.
More than half of respondents said they did not have an assessment and were not consulted on the charges.
The survey found that charges had forced people to stop care they needed or make difficult choices for financial reasons, with the results showing an increased reliance on family members and high levels of deteriorating mental health, including suicidal thoughts.
One person said their daily three care calls went down to once a day for seven weeks, meaning they didn’t get dressed for this period. They said they would be showered and put back into night clothes as there was no carer to undress them later in the day.
Another person, who advocates for several people with care and support needs, said one had all hours removed for going out and was refused [their] request to have them back when lockdown eased.
‘Trapped’ due to lack of care
“Even though she was desperate to get outdoors she could not without help so has been stuck indoors since March 2020, not shielding, but trapped due to so few care hours.”
Sue, a mother of a 19-year-old man with learning disabilities, said she had to give up work at the beginning of the pandemic, then out of the blue in August her son got a bill for £4,500.
“He lives in a care home, I have no idea how we can pay it [and] it would clear out most of his account, leaving him with as little as £100 a month to live his life, for the rest of his life.
“We’ve yet to receive an explanation or how they expect us to pay and I’m worried this is just the start.”
Social Care Future said it feared this was an increasing trend, with a National Audit Office report in March finding 41% of councils with social care responsibility said they needed to make “substantial” service savings to balance 2021-22 budgets, including by increasing charges.
Anna Severwright, a convener of Social Care Future, said the government must not ignore the voices of people who needed social care.
“These cuts to essential support must stop, escalating charges must be capped and there must urgently be a significant investment in social care, our lives and freedom,” she added.
‘Cash-strapped’ councils ‘must act lawfully’
Learning disability charity Mencap also said it had received “a concerning number of calls” to its helpline about local authorities clawing back money or increasing care contributions for people with a learning disability.
Chief executive Edel Harris said: “While local authorities are cash-strapped and need to make ends meet, they still must act lawfully and responsibly.
“It is vital that people with a learning disability and their families have enough resources to live on and that their disability related expenditure is properly taken into account when determining care contributions.”
She added: “The provision of personalised social care is crucial to people with a learning disability getting the support they need to lead active and fulfilling lives in their community.”
Long-term pressures coupled with pandemic impact
The situation comes against a backdrop of long-term pressures on adult social care budgets, coupled with the impact of the pandemic on staffing levels, the need to fund personal protective equipment, reduced occupancy in care homes and additional costs for councils, for example, in supporting shielding people.
The government has allocated £4.6bn to councils in England to respond to Covid-19 in 2020-21 – a significant chunk of which was spent on adult social care – with a further £1.9bn slated for hospital discharge and roughly £1.4bn in specific grants for adult care. However, social care leaders said this was not enough to keep pace with costs.
As well as cuts to care packages and increased charges, the impact seems to have fed through to council fees for care providers.
A spokesperson for provider umbrella group Care England said data collation indicated many local authorities were giving fee increases for care homes of below 2%, which it called “unacceptable”.
“Also, the vast majority of local authorities are failing to consider the impact of the unparalleled drops in occupancy rates when setting fee rates,” the spokesperson said.
At the beginning of this month, Care England chief executive Martin Green said that a recent poll of its members showed that only between 10-30% of local authorities had set fees for the new financial year.
‘A fragile sector left very exposed’
“Local authorities are expected to deliver fee rates by the beginning of 1 April, but in 2021 members of Care England have noted that a larger proportion than normal have failed to do so.
“The majority of care home residents have their fees paid, albeit fully or partially, by local authorities and without prior knowledge of fees it is incredibly difficult for providers to plan ahead thus leaving an already fragile sector very exposed,” Green said at the time.
Meanwhile, an online survey by the United Kingdom Homecare Association (UKHCA) in March revealed that half of the 142 home care providers who responded did not know the rate increases that would be offered.
Around 7% of providers understood that they would receive no increase this year, while around 25% of providers were reporting an average above zero, but below 2%. About 16% were expecting an average increase above 2% and less than 4%.
‘Viability at risk’
Colin Angel, policy director at the UKHCA, said it was “hugely disappointing” that around half of providers had not been informed about the increases they would receive at the start of the financial year, when public bodies had to set and agree their own budgets well in advance.
“Social care was absent from the Chancellor’s spring budget and no plans have yet been published to address the long-term reform of social care; this is another year where inadequate funding will strangle the viability of the independent and voluntary sector,” Angel said.
A Local Government Association spokesperson said: “Councils have been working hard across the pandemic and doing all they can to support people in our communities. However, they have been doing this under increasing financial pressures and this report further highlights some of the consequences of this pressure, which existed long before the pandemic.
“Investment is needed to stabilise and sustain care and support for people of all ages, as well as wider reforms so that people are best supported to live the life they want to lead.”
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