More than 160,000 people are in debt to their local authority because of the charges they are having to pay for their own social care, new figures have revealed.
The figures, which came from freedom of information requests by the GMB union, also show that nearly 1,200 people in just two years were taken to court for non-payment of these debts.
The number taken to court rose from 530 in 2015-16 to 648 in 2016-17 across England, Scotland and Wales, an increase of more than a fifth (22 per cent).
More than 78,000 people have had debt management procedures started against them by their local authority over social care debts.
The true figures are likely to be even higher because some local authorities did not respond to the freedom of information requests.
Ken Butler, welfare rights adviser for Disability Rights UK, said: “This high level of debt among social care users shows the urgent need for [reform] of the whole social care system.
“Many disabled people are told that their care needs are not high enough to receive social care.
“Disabled people have been the worst hit by welfare benefit cuts. The introduction of personal independence payment (PIP) has led to 25 per cent of people losing their disability living allowance and many with a reduced award.
“Around half of new PIP claimants receive no award at all. One consequence of this is that disabled people have even less money to fund what is often an inadequate care package.
“The situation uncovered by the GMB shows the need for urgent reform of both the welfare benefit and social care systems.
“Good social care should be a right to all that need it and should not mean falling into a spiral of debt in order to pay for it.”
Sharon Wilde, GMB national officer, said: “These stark figures show the UK’s social care ticking timebomb has now blown a gaping hole in families’ finances.”
The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) refused to say if it was concerned about GMB’s figures.
But a DHSC spokeswoman said in a statement: “This government is committed to ensuring everyone receives affordable and dignified care, which is why we backed the sector with an extra £2 billion of dedicated funding, and will shortly outline the government’s plans to reform social care to ensure it is sustainable for the future.
“The current social care means testing ensures people are charged for their care based on what they can afford.
“We changed the law so legally the local authority must ensure that people have a genuine choice of accommodation by making at least one option available and affordable within the person’s budget.”
Meanwhile, a survey of people with care needs and carers by the Care and Support Alliance has found that one in five had gone without meals, and more than a third had not been able to leave the house, because of a lack of care and support.
One of those surveyed said: “I can’t prepare meals so don’t eat properly and haven’t taken my medication properly in years. I’m very depressed and have no social life.”
Another said: “Although I am in a care home, I receive no attention other than being washed and dressed.
“I am left to walk myself to the toilet even though I’ve had falls in this care home before. I have food put in front of me that I can’t see, can’t cut, and can’t balance on cutlery.”
Another care recipient said: “I haven’t been washed for over two months. My bedroom floor has only been vacuumed once in three years.
“My sheets have not been changed in about six months, and my pyjamas haven’t been changed this year. My care workers don’t have time for cleaning, washing or changing me.”
More than a third of those who took part in the survey said they had felt lonely and isolated because of a lack of support, and a third said their health had deteriorated because they had not received the care they needed.
The survey of nearly 4,000 people was released in a bid to pressure the government to secure a long-term funding settlement “that addresses the shocking levels of unmet need and takes unnecessary pressure off the NHS” as ministers prepare to publish a green paper on social care for older people by the end of July.