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Feature: Councils face ‘avalanche’ of requests for social care

Almost 75,000 disabled and older people and carers are waiting for help with their care and support as social services struggle to cope with an avalanche of needs arising from the Covid pandemic.

Directors of social services report unprecedented numbers of people waiting for an assessment of their needs, or for agreed care and support arrangements to be put in place. Almost 7,000 people have been waiting more than six months for an assessment.

The figures have emerged in the annual budget survey of local council social services in England by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS). Despite the worsening delays in meeting people’s needs, councils are being forced to plan for savings of £600m in social services spending this year.

The survey has also found that directors are concerned at least equally, or more, about being able to help people of working age who have disabilities or other needs as they are about being able to support older people. Just 3% of directors say they are worried most about older people.

An avalanche of need

Stephen Chandler, ADASS president, said: ‘Many directors are saying they have never seen such an avalanche of need. Tens of thousands of people have lost their independence during the pandemic, suffered fresh distress or seen existing care and support arrangements break down. Many have delayed coming forward until now.

‘Behind every one of the 75,000 cases of people waiting for an assessment or for care and support is a human story of someone unable to lead the life they want to lead and enjoy the minimum that any of us would want to guarantee for our fellow citizens.’

The ADASS survey was completed by directors of almost all English councils responsible for adult social services. The survey has been carried out annually for the past eight years and presents the clearest and most comprehensive picture of the adequacy of state funding of social care. a total of £16bn this year, to meet people’s needs.

Councils were found to be making £601m savings in services in 2021-22, representing an average 3.7% of budgets. Savings will mostly be through greater efficiency, or doing more for less, and developing so-called ‘asset-based’ support whereby people receive help from within their local community rather than from formal services. Since 2010, councils have made a cumulative total of more than £8bn savings.

However, only one in five directors say they are fully confident of making planned savings this year or of meeting all their statutory duties.

Specifically, fewer than one in four directors is confident of meeting their duties to provide information and advice, safeguard all people considered at risk, or carry out assessments of all people seeking care and support.

The survey suggests that almost 55,000 disabled or older people, or carers, are waiting for an assessment of their needs, while more than 19,000 who have been assessed and deemed eligible are waiting for a service or direct payment to arrange their own care and support.

Of those awaiting assessment, almost 7,000 have been waiting more than six months.

The need for reform

person wearing red jacket

Asked for their chief concern, only 3% of directors said it was being able to meet the needs of older people whereas 40% said it was being able to do so for people of working age and 54% said they were equally concerned about both. The government’s manifesto commitment to reform social care focuses on older people.

Stephen Chandler said: ‘Our survey shows starkly why the government must now, without any further delay, produce its plans to reform social care. We have called for the outline of the plans to be tabled before parliament starts its six-week summer recess next week.

‘Those plans must address the needs of people of working age as well as older people.’

Responding to the report, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: ‘This report confirms what many already suspected. Tens of thousands of older people and those with disabilities aren’t getting the care they desperately need.

‘This is a tragedy for them and their families, and a mark of shame for this country. “Social care is on the brink of collapse as a direct result of government inaction.

‘Ministers keep promising a plan to reform social care but not delivering. “The Prime Minister can’t keep ignoring the crisis in front of him. The government should be ashamed that this wealthy country has a broken, bargain-basement system that’s about to implode.

‘A significant funding boost and a pay rise for care workers are needed urgently, along with a care service that mirrors the NHS.’

Chief executive of the Social Care Institute for Excellence, Kathryn Smith, said the report highlights the need for a reform of adult social care. 

‘We’ve spent 16 months talking about how Covid-19 has put care and support services under even more pressure than usual; and how it has further highlighted the need for reform.

‘Today’s report looks at some of the unintended consequences of Covid-19. But we will continue calls for meaningful reform as these worrying figures underline just how much that reform is needed right now.

‘We agree with ADASS that under-investment means that more people are in need of social care and support but fewer are getting it, and many are getting less. Political leaders know that this is high on the agenda.

‘Today we join ADASS and others in calling for sustainable reform for adult social care.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to reforming the adult social care system and, as set out in the Queen’s Speech, we will bring forward proposals later this year to ensure every person receives the care they need, provided with the dignity they deserve.

‘We are working closely with local and national partners to ensure our approach to reform is informed by diverse perspectives, including of those with lived experience of the care sector.’

Photo Credit – Jack Finnigan

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