The cut
Councils up and down the country are preparing swingeing cuts to adult social care even before next month’s spending review is finalised. One way they’re getting ready for the age of austerity is by removing the ceiling on the amount the elderly and disabled pay for help with things like washing, dressing and going to the toilet.  Oxfordshire has already taken action – and Lewisham, Warwickshire, Hertfordshire, and Hampshire are all consulting on removing a payments cap which was introduced by the government in 2003 to limit charges for care.

The background
Social care is paid for by local authorities, and unlike the health service, it isn’t ring fenced from spending cuts. The Communities and Local Government Department is facing budget reductions of 25-40 per cent.  So town halls are preparing to take a scythe to social care spending to make ends meet.

That explains why many are planning to remove the cap the Labour government brought in in 2003 to make things fairer. As a result, elderly and disabled people will have to dig deeper into their pockets to fund their care.

The analysis
Councils aren’t going to wait for the Chancellor to tell them their share of the £83bn spending cuts ahead. They’re already reining in costs, and adult social care is first in line. It’s one of the biggest budgets town halls manage, so it was always going to be hit hard.

In Oxfordshire they’re braced for cuts as severe as 40 per cent from the Social and Community Services budget. And they’ve already started taking action. The council is now charging older people the maximum rate for care in their own homes, which is £15 an hour, and has doubled, to £10 a day, the cost of day services in council centres.

Raising the ceiling on charges is one of the easiest ways for councils to make the numbers add up. CutsCheck has discovered that Lewisham is consulting on plans to remove the cap, or raise the weekly ceiling to £395, up from £290 currently.

likewise is considering increasing its hourly charge for adult social care from £9.66 to £12.34 in December and £16.45 in April next year. It is also weighing up whether to ditch the cap. Hertfordshire is following suit.

Hampshire has this to say:  “At present the council uses ‘caps’ which means that no-one contributes more than 95 per cent of their disposable income and the most anyone would pay towards the cost of their services is £440 per week, even if they could afford to pay substantially more.  Under a new system, those who have been assessed as being able to pay more than £440 per week would be asked to do so.”

And Lincolnshire is looking at almost doubling the maximum charge from £126 to £250.

CutsCheck has also seen confidential documents from one council, laying bare the scale of pressure on the social care budgets. Rochdale council – run, like the government, by a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition – is planning savings of £2.98m from its “intermediate care” budget. That’s help for people leaving hospital. It’s also slashing £2.8m from community home care.

The Labour group leader on Rochdale council, Colin Lambert, told us that would mean the closure of two care homes. And he revealed that a total of £25m would be axed from the adult social care budget in Rochdale over the next two and a half years. That’s a cut of more than 50 per cent.

Speaking to CutsCheck, he said “the savagery of that cut means people will become ill, they will be readmitted to hospital, increasing the NHS budget. The lack of care… will lead to malnutrition, it will lead to serious illness.  It will increase the re-admittance rate to hospital, and it will seriously lead to old people dying early needlessly.”

Although local authorities insist those on the lowest income will be protected from the worst of the cuts, charities for the elderly and disabled are seriously worried.

A coalition of 20 groups has written to council chief executives expressing concern. The letter, passed to CutsCheck, points out the social care cuts could be counter-productive. If people are denied help at home, they could end up in hospital, therefore costing the NHS more. “Denying people access to support … can result in additional costs. People may enter care homes rather than remaining in their own homes through not accessing support until experiencing crisis needs, which results in higher costs to local authorities,” the letter says.

The charity Disability Alliance said: “As a result of paying for essential services some disabled people are already living in poverty and unable to adequately eat or heat homes properly to maintain health. As councils are forced to implement national cuts they must take care not to further impoverish our most disadvantaged citizens.”

Cathy Newman’s verdict
The October spending review is really going to hurt adult social care. Many believe it’s short-sighted for the government to protect NHS spending, without doing the same for social care, particularly as people denied help at home may end up being an extra burden on the health service.

Because social care is one of the biggest budgets town halls manage, it was always going to bear the brunt of the cuts. And our findings show that councils are pre-empting the Chancellor’s announcement, and thinking the previously unthinkable in this area.

It seems odd that David Cameron is prepared to promise to save free bus passes for pensioners, while allowing local authorities to take chunks out of basic services for the elderly and disabled. The leader of the Labour group on Rochdale council says cuts on this scale will cause malnutrition or even deaths. Even allowing for some exaggeration for political effect, sadly this may not be as hyperbolic as it sounds.