Government spending review: Social care looks set for further cuts

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Councils look set to be forced to make further large cuts to their adult social care budgets, despite the government announcing an extra £2 billion a year to protect social care services.

Disability organisations said the extra money would be swallowed up by huge cuts in government funding to local authorities, leading to higher charges and further cuts to care and support for disabled people.

In this week’s spending review, George Osborne, the chancellor, announced an extra £1 billion a year for social care through grants to local authorities by 2015, with another £1 billion a year from the NHS to support joint working with councils.

Up to £300m of the NHS money will be for “re-ablement” – rehabilitation after a spell in hospital – while the rest will be used to support other social care services.

The government said it would also ensure that existing social care grants to local authorities rise in line with inflation to £1.4 billion by 2014-15.

But none of the new funding will be “ring-fenced” and Osborne announced cuts in total government funding of local councils of 26 per cent over the next four years.

In a letter to directors of social services, David Behan, the government’s director general of social care, said the extra social care funding would “make it possible to protect people’s access to care, without tightening eligibility”.

He said councils would still need to make “significant efficiency savings”, for example by helping people to stay independent, through assistive technology, “driving forward” personalisation and maximising spending on “frontline services”.

But Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said many councils were already consulting on tightening eligibility criteria for care and increasing charges.

He said: “Cuts to councils’ budgets will mean disabled people lose some social services or pay more to receive essential support.”

And he said that disabled people needed more support from public services than non-disabled people, and would therefore be affected by spending cuts across the public sector. Cuts to police spending, for example, could harm efforts to address disability hate crime.

Ellen Clifford, interim director of the London user-led organisation Newham Coalition, warned that social services departments were “not yet equipped to cope” with moves towards personalisation of social care, and that this policy would fail without more investment.

She added: “Without this, self-directed support will fail, but more than that the lives of disabled people are being put at real risk.”

Clifford also warned that disabled people would be disproportionately affected by government cuts to funding for social housing.

Osborne also announced that “priority” would be given to “protecting” disabled facilities grants (DFG) – which fund improvements such as installing a downstairs bathroom or a ramp in disabled people’s homes.

But this DFG money will not be ring-fenced, so there is no guarantee that it will be used for this purpose by cash-strapped councils.

Government spending on DFG will rise from £168.8 million to £180 million in 2011-12, and to £185 million a year by 2014-15.

The Department of Health also said it was expanding access to “talking therapies” for people with mental health conditions – a move welcomed by mental health charities such as Mind and Rethink – but was scrapping the commitment by the previous government to expand free prescriptions to people with long-term conditions.

21 October 2010

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