Local authorities 'rationing care'

Witney Gazette: Concerns have been raised about the quality of social care for older people. Concerns have been raised about the quality of social care for older people.

"Too many" elderly people who struggle with simple day-to-day tasks are not getting any help from social care services, a damning new report has warned.

Some older people in England are being left to "fend for themselves" instead of getting the care and support they need to complete basic tasks such as getting out of bed, bathing, preparing meals or doing their shopping, according to Age UK.

And families who care for loved ones are being placed under "intolerable strain" because they are not receiving any assistance for their loved ones, the charity said.

Its new report states that cuts to social care budgets have led to a care crisis - which is only worsening with an ageing population.

The report suggests that access to care has become restricted for many as councils feel the pinch of funding cuts.

Local authorities, which provide social care to people in their areas, are "rationing care", it adds.

Many are so stretched that they are only able to provide help to people whose needs are deemed to be " substantial" or "critical". Elderly people whose needs are deemed to be "moderate" or "low" are ignored until their needs become greater, the charity said.

The report states that 87% of authorities in England only provide care if the need is deemed to be " substantial" with a further 2% only providing care for those in dire need.

Just a "few" councils pay for care for people with "low" or "moderate" needs to prevent them from reaching a crisis point later on, it adds.

As a result, people in need of care face a "postcode lottery", the report states.

People deemed to be in "moderate" need are unable to to carry out several personal care or domestic routines, while those at "low" risk have an inability to carry out one or two of these tasks.

"As council funding has come under increasing pressure, they have raised eligibility thresholds," the report states.

"This results in fewer people being able to access care services."

Between 2005/6 and 20012/13 the number of people who received social care dropped by 27.2% - despite the fact that the population in this age group has grown by more than a million, the report says.

Age UK said that despite the rising demand for care the amount spent on services has dropped by £1.2 billion since 2010.

It said that since then £438 million has been transferred from NHS money to local authorities. But it is unclear whether all of the money diverted to local authorities has actually been spent on social care.

And this cash injection still leaves and shortfall on £769 million, it said.

The charity called on the Government to invest in social care in the Budget - which will be delivered by Chancellor George Osborne on March 19.

It also warned that the Care Bill, which represents a "significant step forward for older people in need of care", could be undermined by "inadequate" funding.

"The figures we have uncovered in this report are catastrophic," said Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK.

"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.

"The Government deserves credit for bringing forward long overdue reforms to the social care system, but 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. Age UK is calling on the Government to use the Budget to invest in the social care system so it can deliver the care and support that older people need.

"At the moment too many older people who have contributed to society throughout their lives are being left to fend for themselves when they need care and support. We cannot continue to sacrifice their safety, health and dignity. Too many older people have suffered already. It is time for politicians in all parties to act."

Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb said: "Social care is a priority for this Government which is why we have already allocated an extra £1.1 billion to councils from the NHS to protect services. But 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.

"That's why we're going further in 2015/16 with our £3.8bn Better Care Fund which will allow local authorities and the NHS to invest in joined up services that prevent people from developing greater care needs in the first place. Our reforms to the way we pay for care will also help by protecting people from catastrophic costs."

George McNamara from the Alzheimer's Society said the care system was at "breaking point" and had been underfunded for "many, many years".

"It's right and it's good that there's that focus in terms of better care funds but what we want is a settlement, a sustainable long-term settlement, between health, social care and housing to enable one that is based around the needs of people rather than structures," he said.

"What we know is this is a crisis which has been brewing for a number of years and it's good money that we are getting, money for the short term, but we need long-term sustainable funding and only then will we be able to deliver the services that older people need and deserve."

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