Almost all councils lack the funding or the workforce to meet adult social care costs this winter, their directors have warned.
Ninety four per cent of directors disagreed that they had sufficient money to fund care over the coming months, while the same proportion disagreed that there were enough social care staff locally to meet needs this winter, in response to an Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) survey.
ADASS released the results of the survey today, two days before chancellor Jeremy Hunt delivers his autumn statement, which is tipped to provide no respite for the impact of inflationary pressures on council budgets over the next three years and schedule in cuts for 2025 and beyond.
It came as two of England’s largest councils, Hampshire and Kent, warned they were at risk of bankruptcy, in a letter to prime minister Rishi Sunak, just days after a survey of county authorities found three-quarters planned to restrict eligibility for adult social care.
Mounting adult care pressures
They interventions reflect mounting adult social care workforce shortages, with a 55,000 rise in vacancies and a 50,000 drop in filled posts in 2021-22, and waiting lists for assessments, care packages and reviews. These topped 540,000 in April, up 37% on six months previously, according to a previous ADASS survey. Though its latest poll showed the figure had dropped by 9% to just over 490,000 as of August, the number waiting for an assessment for over six months had risen by 10% since April, to just under 81,000.
Following its latest survey, ADASS chief executive Cathie Williams said: “This is the bleakest autumn survey we have ever had. Only a handful of directors have any confidence they may be able to get through the winter with the funding they have and the care workers available locally. We were fearful in the summer; we are fearful now. This affects all of us.”
Other results from the survey included that:
- Three-quarters of directors felt they would not be able to a cope if a large care provider failed, which would require councils to meet the needs of all those affected, regardless of whether they were doing so already.
- Councils were looking to save a further £113m from adult social care budgets before next April, in addition to £597m in reductions for 2022-23 identified in a previous survey.
- Authorities are planning £1.3bn in adult social care savings in 2023-24.
- 93% of directors said they backed more government funding for adult social care beyond £500m announced in September to support the workforce and hospital discharges, which is yet to be allocated two months on.
Williams added: “The £500m discharge fund will not solve this, when it is finally distributed – and it is urgently needed. We desperately need another significant injection of emergency funding to provide more help for people at home.”
In their letter to Sunak, Hampshire leader Rob Humby and Kent counterpart Roger Gough said they needed immediate help and a long-term plan for sustainability to avoid declaring themselves bankrupt in the next year or so. Such a scenario would necessitate the councils slashing discretionary spending – including non-statutory social care services – and requiring a government bailout package.
Humby said that “12 years of national austerity”, cuts to core budgets, inflation, mounting demand for adult and children’s social care and significant restrictions on councils’ ability to raise their own cash meant their budgets were “now at breaking point”.
Gough added: “The problem is simple: the extra money we can raise from council tax and business rates barely covers our normal costs of inflation each year. This leaves major growth, particularly in adults’ and children’s social care, totally unfunded.
“This is not a medium-term problem that can be fixed with more one-off handouts to keep the sector limping along, it needs fundamental changes to the whole system of local government funding. Without a major change either in the way these two services are funded, or in our legal obligations, I suspect that large parts of upper tier local government will face collapse.”
Two-year delay to care cap
Among other measures predicted in the autumn statement is a two-year delay – to 2025 – in the implementation of adult social care charging reforms, including the £86,000 cap on care costs.
While council leaders had urged such a delay, this was to give authorities more time to prepare and on the proviso that the allocated funding was retained to shore up their social care budgets. However, it is not clear whether the funding would be so retained in the event of Hunt and Sunak delaying the reform.
Williams added: “If the chancellor is going to postpone next year’s charging reforms, he must ensure that the cash already allocated for them is re-purposed to bring forward other measures that have an immediate impact on the ground so that more older and disabled people get the care and support they need.”