Warning of ‘catastrophic’ crisis in care for older people

Published on Thursday, 06 March 2014 10:34
Written by Daniel Mason

Dramatic cuts in spending on care for elderly people under the coalition government have had a "catastrophic" effect on the system, according to a report published today by Age UK.

The study found that spending on social care services for older people has dropped by £1.2bn since the general election in 2010. While £438m was transferred from the NHS budget to local authorities, that still left a shortfall of £769m, Care in Crisis 2014 revealed. Funding for older people's social care had already been stagnant since 2005.

The cuts have left the vast majority of local authorities able to provide help only when a person's need have been assessed as 'substantial' or above. That means many older people who have difficulty with tasks such as bathing, preparing meals or doing shopping – assessed as having 'low' or 'moderate' needs – do not get any support.

Between 2005 and 2013 the number of people able to access local authority funded day centres fell by 49% from 136,000 to 69,100, while the number of older people receiving home care fell by 21% from 489,000 to 384,600. The spending cuts have coincided with rising demand, the charity warned, with the number of people aged 85 and over – the most likely to need care – rising by 30% between 2005 and 2013.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: "The figures we have uncovered in this report are catastrophic. Older people who need help and who are now not getting it are being placed at significant risk and families who care for loved ones are experiencing intolerable strain.

"If older people do not receive the care they need and as a consequence end up in A&E units and hospital wards, we have simply shifted people around the system at great financial cost and created distress and disruption for older people in the process. This makes absolutely no moral or economic sense."

She said the government deserved credit for bringing forward "long overdue" reforms as part of the care bill, which is currently going through parliament, but added: "Without the money to back them up, older people will see little if any benefit. Integration, while the right approach, will not make up for a chronic lack of funds."

Labour claimed the "devastating report" showed the "true scale of the care crisis unfolding under this government" The shadow minister for care and older people, Liz Kendall, said: "Fewer elderly people are receiving vital services that that help them get up, washed, and fed. Families are struggling to cope with looking after their relatives, and are also seeing their own health suffer.

"This isn't good for them, and it's a false economy as more frail elderly people are ending up in hospital or residential care when they don't need to. The failure to provide decent care and support for elderly people is simply unacceptable in the 21st century in one of the richest countries in the world."

Meanwhile a spokesman for the Local Government Association said cuts to council funding and the ageing population had "taken their toll on the system" – but added that satisfaction rates for people receiving care were "still around 90%".

"Overall funding for local government has been cut by more than 40% over the course of this parliament and councils have worked very hard to protect social care services from the full impact of cuts, including providing advice and support for people who are not eligible for statutory care," the LGA said in a statement.

"However, the shortage of funding is being exacerbated by increasing demand and councils need an extra £400m each year just to maintain services at current levels. To substantially raise the standard of care on a nationwide basis, more money needs to be put into the system."

The care minister, Norman Lamb, quoted by the BBC, said: "Both our health and social care services need to work differently to respond to the needs of our ageing population – we need to focus on keeping people well and living independently for as long as possible."

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