A report commissioned following concerns raised by disabled people that their local authority was breaching its duties under the Care Act will do little to help because it fails to address drastic cuts to social care funding, say campaigners.
Norfolk County Council (NCC) had asked the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) to review its implementation of the 2014 Care Act after the disabled people’s organisation Equal Lives accused it of “reckless behaviour” that had left disabled people prisoners in their own homes.
Equal Lives had accused the Conservative-majority council of a “systemic failure” to meet its legal duties under the act.
But although the report by SCIE – an improvement support agency that was originally set up by the Labour government but later became a charity – makes 22 recommendations for improvements at the council, it says nothing about the need for greater funding for social care in Norfolk.
SCIE said that the issue of funding and resources was “not specifically in scope” for the review, although the impact of funding cuts on the council’s practice “was raised by participants in the course of the review”.
Service-users in Norfolk are now considering taking legal action against the council over the cuts to their support, while their experiences will be fed into an inquiry into adult social care by the communities and local government select committee.
Their cases will also feed into a report being prepared by Equal Lives and other members of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance for its “shadow report” on how the UK government is implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
SCIE’s conclusions came as a health select committee report on the impact of last year’s spending review on health and social care funding in England concluded that “increasing numbers of people with genuine social care needs are no longer receiving the care they need because of a lack of funding”.
The committee’s Conservative chair, Dr Sarah Wollaston, said that this “not only causes considerable distress to these individuals and their families but results in additional costs to the NHS”.
The committee heard that adult social care budgets had fallen by £4.6 billion (31 per cent) between 2010-11 and 2015-16, while by June 2015, 400,000 fewer disabled and older people were receiving social care than in 2009-10, with the size of care packages also being cut.
The SCIE report claims there is a “high level of awareness that cuts have to be made and budgets have to be reduced”, and that it has been “very difficult to manage expectations”.
It adds: “Service users and carers, aware of NCC’s need to make financial savings, feel generally anxious about reviews and assessments, as a reduction to Personal Budgets could have a significant impact on their quality of life.”
The report says the council has a “genuine intention to improve outcomes for local people”, but says there are “several areas for NCC to focus on to deliver and embed the Care Act’s requirements in ways which use resources to best effect” and “gain the full confidence” of service-users, staff and other groups and individuals.
But Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, said: “Whilst welcoming the review I am not confident it will change very much given there are no recommendations around resources, even though the report does highlight cuts and management culture as contributing factors to poor performance.
“The disabled people at the launch of the report saw it as ‘too high level’.
“Their experience is having their personal budgets cut and a rising fear of social workers and reviews, as they are often a negative experience.
“I don’t believe things can be turned round in Norfolk without a significant rise in funding.”
Earlier this year, Equal Lives published six cases studies of disabled people whose wellbeing had suffered as a result of council cuts, and which it said demonstrated how the council had breached its duties under the Care Act.
Harrison said: “Norfolk has seen the adult social care budget cut by 40 per cent since 2010, with rising demand for services.
“We are facing a further £20 million cuts over the next two years.
“This is unsustainable and I call on Conservative politicians at national and local levels to take this seriously and address this crisis.”
Cllr Bill Borrett, the Conservative chair of the council’s adult social care committee, told Disability News Service that the funding pressures faced by NCC were “a national problem” and “not a problem unique to Norfolk”, and that his council, just like any other, would like more funding for social care from central government.
But he said social care had to “compete for its resources” with other areas, such as the NHS, education, and paying for the Trident nuclear deterrent, and that it was “a decision for society to make about whether they think there is enough of the national wealth being spent in this area or not”.
He said SCIE had not been asked to look at whether disabled people were receiving large enough care packages but at “the effectiveness of what was done and how the council was using its resources to get the best results”.
He said: “What we have to justify as an organisation is that we are using the scarce resources available to us to get absolutely the best results we can from those resources.
“If the council felt that absolutely everything it was doing was perfect then we wouldn’t have commissioned this report.
“We need to look at delivering services in a different way and that means that services are different.”
Asked whether disabled people in Norfolk were currently enjoying choice, control and a right to independent living, he said: “What we’ve got to be sure of is that these different services are going to be better at meeting their needs than the way the services were constructed in the past, and I don’t know the answer to that.”
And asked what message he would give to disabled people facing cuts to their support in Norfolk, he said: “The message I would give to them is we are striving to give them the best service that we can, given the budgets that are available to us, and that nothing is more important than that goal.”
Picture: Martin Symons, one of the six disabled people from Norfolk whose cases were published by EqualLives