Campaigners have raised new fears that funding cuts by councils across the country could be leading to reductions in disabled people’s support packages.
Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have also criticised local authorities for a lack of openness and transparency.
And one DPO has said some councils could even be using the move towards personalisation of services as a cover for cutting spending on care and support.
The new fears came as the Audit Commission, the public spending watchdog, warned in a report into the financial challenges for councils of an ageing population, that local authorities would have to find billions of pounds of extra savings over the next three years.
Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said she believed there was a “process of nibbling here and there” at disabled people’s support packages.
She said local authorities were reviewing people’s support packages but were “not being up front about it” and that it was “almost as if they feel they have to be secretive about cutbacks”.
She said she believed some councils were “ever so slightly…ratcheting up” their interpretation of the eligibility criteria for care as part of efforts to cut costs.
She said: “Care packages are completely inadequate and a lot of people are in fear about what is going to happen.
“Any time they are approached by anyone from a local authority the assumption is, ‘They are going to cut back on my care package.’”
In Norfolk, the county council has announced a £115 million funding gap that it will have to fill over the next three years.
Mark Harrison, chief executive of Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People, said it was a “huge amount of money to be saved” and he feared it would fall “disproportionately” on social services and disabled people.
In Norfolk, only those with substantial or critical needs and who cannot afford to pay for their own care receive support from the council, he said.
He is concerned that the council could soon have to reduce support only to those with critical needs.
And Harrison said he was worried that some councils could be using the process of personalisation as a cover for funding cuts.
He said: “What we know from our members is that direct payments are better than direct care services.
“Our members do talk about it being a liberating experience. What worries me is that other things are undermining personalisation.”
Tricia Nicoll, a leading independent consultant, who also works for In Control, a charity which supports councils to deliver self-directed support, said she was hearing anecdotally that adult social care budgets around the country were tightening.
She said: “Despite the financial problems they are facing, it is important for local authorities to keep their eye on the ultimate goal, which is choice and control for disabled people.”
And Claire Glasman, a volunteer with WinVisible, the national disabled women’s organisation, said: “We think it’s getting worse. All we know is that it is very, very difficult to get enough hours for what you need.”
She said she believed that some councils were using procedures such as annual reviews as cover for cutting support packages.
She said: “It is very tough to get enough hours when people have their annual review and that is being used as a way to cut down hours.”
As the Audit Commission published its new report, its chairman, Michael O’Higgins, emphasised the benefits of personalised services and said they could help councils cope with the “huge financial pressures” they faced.
He said: “Most older people live at home, not in care homes. And the longer they do, the happier they are and the less they cost the taxpayer.
“Innovative, personalised services mean older people stay independent longer, saving public money.”
17 February 2010