All across the country, local authorities are holding talks on how they can reduce their spending. This is a result of, on average, 26% cuts to their central government grants budgets over the next 4 years. Tough choices are inevitable.
But as they work out where they can make savings by cutting red-tape, reducing services, or increasing user charges, councils must remain aware that the demand for many services, in particular social care, is actually rising due to our ageing population.
However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
The coalition government has acknowledged that greater strain will be put on the social care system in the coming years, so in the Comprehensive Spending Review, George Osborne announced a £2 billion support package for social care. Although this money is earmarked to maintain spending on social care, there is no guarantee that local authorities will actually spend all the money on care. Only sustained local campaigning can stop councils making cuts to their existing care budgets.
Today is Age UK’s national day of action as part of the ‘Cut Cake not Care’ campaign. Across the country we are calling for local councils to maintain spending on older people’s care services, to protect and improve outcomes for service users. We want councils to maintain the levels of their eligibility criteria, continuing to provide care to older people who need it. If care is removed from those with significant needs, it will have devastating consequences, compromising safety and health, and place extra pressure on the NHS.
Early intervention, in the form of preventative services, must also be protected so that more intensive and therefore expensive needs are delayed or prevented altogether. By protecting preventative services, older people will be able to live independently in the community for longer. This, in the long term, will reduce the need for high levels of care and support in the future.
Councils need to think creatively to find other savings. Some may be able to re-structure services to reduce impact on the front; others may be able to release money by keeping older people out of residential care for longer. Either way, councils must avoid cuts that cause harm to the most vulnerable people in their communities. Social care is one service older people cannot do without.