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How are local authorities funding social care?

How social care is constrained by budget challenges

Many of the services we need for our ageing family and friends should be delivered by their local authority. A new report looks at why social care directors are finding their desire to deliver good service is tied to budget constraints, and what they’re doing about it.

What’s the problem?

The charitable body, The Association of Directors of Adults Social Services (ADASS), has just carried out its annual survey of social care spending, asking local authority directors about their budgets and planning. This view from the coalface is enlightening.

The report says that currently ‘Many get great care and support to live good lives and die good deaths. Too many struggle without help though. Too many struggle without enough help.’ But, it say, ‘Behind the numbers are heroic care staff making an essential difference every minute of every day.’

Themes from the feedback include shrinking budgets that means difficult choices, short-term emergency funding with no clear end date, growing costs of service delivery, and the lack of a long-term plan for social care.

Yet councils still need to provide at least adequate social care for the old and vulnerable.

At the minimum, the statutory duties that councils should deliver are:

  • Information and advice
  • Prevention and well-being
  • Assessment (carers and people using services)
  • Personal budgets/services sufficient to meet eligible needs
  • Safeguarding
  • Market sustainability (including National Living Wage)

How are local authorities funding social care right now?

There has been a £7bn reduction in adult social care funding since 2010. Despite this, in 2019/20 planned spend on adult social care equates to almost around 38p in every pound spent by councils. The proportion of council budget being spent on social care continues to grow, and is currently at a new high of 38%.

There are some short-term funding options available, such as winter pressure funding and a social care support grant.

No one knows whether these funding options will continue, so social care directors say they need to find ways to make savings.

To that end, councils seem to be making a concerted effort to move to an ‘asset-based approach’, which ‘builds on people’s strengths and the resources in their families and communities’. They are also talking about more self-help strategies, with both approaches aimed at avoiding any further negative impact on service users and carers. In particular, they are looking hard at investment in assistive and communications technologies, as well as working with housing to develop more effective housing solutions.

What about funding the future?

Mostly respondents are talking about moving to different strategies in the long term. They say they would like to move to towards prevention and early intervention, and engaging people with their communities.

Longer term strategies could fundamentally change the way people experience care and support, say directors.

However, the continuing lack of a central strategy for social care in the form of the long-awaited Green Paper is making planning difficult. And there are external constraints, such as need to pay a National Living Wage to carers and the fragile state of the care market in general. There is also the unresolved relationship with the NHS, including delayed transfers and the tightening of NHS Continuing Healthcare Funding.

Do savings mean cuts?

Some respondents to the survey did agree that they are looking at reducing the number of people receiving formal care, and cutting personal budgets.

As the report suggests, if this is all part of a strategy towards using more assistive technologies, for example, then this a potentially a positive move. If it’s just about gatekeeping resources, that’s worrying – and potentially unlawful.

Overall, the report is positive about the efforts of local authorities in the face of many challenges. It finds ‘ingenuity in making savings, concern for those of us affected and belief in the potential of work with people in communities and the need to invest in prevention and asset-based approaches.’

If you’d like to read more detail about the pressures on and expectations for social care at the local authority level, you can download the ADASS report from https://www.adass.org.uk/adass-budget-survey-2019.

  • Need help with applying for NHS Continuing Healthcare funding for those with a high level of needs? Take a look at our guide on the Downloads page.
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Article compiled by Kathy Lawrence, editor of When They Get Older.

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