Reports highlight increasingly perilous state of council care services

Adult social care “close to collapse” for some English councils and nearly all cope with increasing numbers of children coming into care.

social care

Half of local authorities overspent on adult social care budgets in 2017-18, the survey found. A complete collapse of adult social care is close in some English council areas despite extra government funding – while increasing numbers of children are being pushed into council care by cuts.

The perilous condition of care across the age range is highlighted in new research released by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and frank assessment from the children’s commissioner.

ADASS says extra funding can’t prop up fragile adult social care close to collapse in some areas of England, despite more than £9bn of ‘extra’ funding streamed into the system.

The research report cites the state of many social care budgets, coupled with growing demand for services, increasing NHS pressure, and spiralling staff costs as specifics in saying councils “cannot go on” without a sustainable long-term funding strategy to underpin social care.

English councils plan to push through social care cuts of £700m in 2018-19, equivalent to nearly 5% of the total £14.5bn budget.

Since 2010, social care spending in England has shrunk by £7bn.

A government green paper on adult social care funding is expected in the next few weeks, but councils say any short-term gain will only shore up services.

“We cannot go on like this – how we help people live the life they want, how we care and support people in our families and communities, and how we ensure carers get the support they need is at stake – it’s time for us to deliver the secure future that so very many people in need of social care urgently need.”

The government stands by the ‘extra’ £9.4bn in funding it intends to stream into the system over three years saying it will ‘shortly’ set out reform plans.

Almost a third of councils have seen residential and nursing home care providers close down or handback contracts according to the ADASS report.

And although councils are spending an increasing proportion of their total budget on adult social care – almost 38p in every pound in 2018-19, compared with 34p in 2010 – the report cites social care directors as saying they will have to continue to reduce the number of people in receipt of care packages.

The survey reveals councils are increasingly reliant on so-called self-help or asset based approaches to care.

In effect, this means family and neighbourhood networks providing volunteer support.

Half of councils overspent on adult social care budgets in 2017-18, the survey finds, with half of these drawing on reserves as cover.

A previously reported by 24housing, the National Audit Office has warned some 10% of councils will run out of reserves in three years at current rate of deployment – putting them at risk of insolvency.

Government acknowledged the financial crisis facing council adult social care services last year in providing £2.6bn over three years through a combination of grants and enabling councils to raise extra social care funds locally through a council tax precept.

ADASS says this injection of cash helped stave off financial collapse in some council areas, but “temporarily relieved, rather than resolved” the long-term funding needs of the sector – with a danger council services could collapse before any new arrangements are in place.

Although councils have a legal duty to ensure there is a functioning care market in their area, nearly four in five say they are concerned that they are unable to guarantee this.

Councillor Izzi Seccombe, the chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said unless “immediate action” is taken the long warned of tipping point will be breached with councils unable to fulfil their statutory duty under the Care Act.

Richard Murray, the director of policy at The King’s Fund, said the ADASS evidence “laid bare” the need for a proper plan to pay for and provide social care.

Meantime, children’s commissioner Anne Longfield warned of unsustainable social and economic costs as increasing numbers of children enter care.

Longfield said cuts of 60% to Sure Start and other preventative services since 2009 had effectively removed vital safety nets for at-risk youngsters and families and left them vulnerable to falling into extreme need.

She wants a renewed focus on reversing the trend toward shrinking resources sustaining high-cost child protection and care services at the expense of prevention.

“Children do not arrive in extreme need overnight and many could be prevented from getting to that point if we helped them sooner in a more effective way.

“The economic and social costs are unsustainable,” she said.

Longfield was introducing a study of public spending on children between 2000 and 2020, carried out by the Institute of Fiscal Studies that shows England now spending nearly half its entire children’s budget on the 73,000 children in the care system – leaving the rest for 11.7 million youngsters.

Overall, 72% of children’s services budgets went towards helping families in severe need.

Spending on children’s services doubled in the first decade of the 21st century to a high point of £9.7bn in 2009-10, before falling away by 11% in real terms under austerity budgets, the study shows.

Young people’s services were cut from £1.4bn to £0.5bn between 2009-10 and 2016-17, while £1bn was lopped from the Sure Start spending over the same period.

Between 2009–10 and 2016–17, spending on looked-after children increased by 22%, driven in part by increases in children going unto care after the Baby P case in 2007 from about 60,000 in 2008 to 73,000 by 2017.

Children formally assessed as in need rose from 376,000 in 2010 to about 389,000 in 2016, while children subject to a child protection plan rose from 40,000 to about 50,000 over the same period.

Richard Watts, chairman of the LGA children and young people board, said the report revealed a “stark picture” of the reality facing councils that could not keep providing such a standard of support without being forced to cut back on early intervention services to prevent children entering the care system in the first place.

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