Care in Crisis 2012 confirms what many older people and families already know: that social care in England is under phenomenal strain. Our analysis paints a picture of a seriously under-funded care system having an increasingly damaging impact on those older people who need support to live safe and independent lives. It also shows that without additional resources the situation will get worse.
Care under-funding is not a new problem, but we are now living with the effects of declining real terms investment over the last six years, combined with growing numbers of older people. The inevitable result is that there are not enough services to go round.
Eligibility criteria have tightened, around 800,000 older people have unmet needs and the financial demands on those who do receive services are rising.
Recognition that a funding gap exists is also not new, but the problem is becoming starker and the consequences for older people more profound as the spending cuts really bite.
Despite additional Government investment in care to help protect frontline services from cuts, our analysis shows that care budgets have still fallen in real terms by 4.5% in 2011-12. This equates to a shortfall of £341m and the money transferred from PCTs for care services does not fill the gap. There are additional cost implications even to maintaining services at 2010-11 levels. Our analysis concludes that this year’s shortfall is £500 million and we project that the Government will need to spend £1 billion more next year compared to this year just to stop things getting worse.
These figures illustrate the scale of the challenge and at Age UK we are clear that additional money for care needs to go hand in hand with reform. We have to do more than just subtly change the ways in which services are provided to embrace wholehearted reforms that safeguard services for the future and ensure they are of consistently high quality.
At a time of austerity, it is all the more important that services are efficient and provide good value for money. That’s why we support the proposals put forward by Andrew Dilnot; they place the funding of care on a more sustainable footing and in our view they achieve a fair balance on the contributions needed from individuals and the State.
More broadly, our aim must be to create flexible and responsive care that gives older people the right support at the right time. Yet at present older people often tell us that they find the care system complex, unfair and inconsistent, and set up so it is impossible to plan ahead.
Clearly, there is an urgent need for a single piece of legislation which articulates what people are entitled to and how they can access services.
And looking ahead to the forthcoming Social Care White Paper we think there are two key challenges:
- Protecting existing services and funding the care system so that those who are currently in need can be confident of efficient, high quality and reliable services now.
- Planning for the future to maintain and enhance the provision of care and the system that supports it, for the benefit of generations to come.
As the political parties continue their cross-party talks they must reach agreement on these crucial issues. There is a golden opportunity for reform and it must not be lost.