The number of vulnerable older people receiving “meals on wheels” services has dropped by over half. Photograph: Alamy
A quarter of a million older people have lost their state-funded help with carrying out everyday activities such as bathing, dressing and eating in the past four years as council budgets have been slashed and services rationed, according to a report released on Wednesday.
The NHS and government are now “flying blind” in planning services for vulnerable older people because there is no way of assessing the true impact that social care cuts are having on their lives, the report’s authors warn.
The report by the Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation thinktanks says that four years of cuts to local authority funding have already forced councils to ration social care services tightly.
The number of vulnerable older people receiving “meals on wheels” services dropped by over half, while care services carried out in the home or in day centres were cut by a fifth.
The analysis of the impact of the reduced budgets estimates that although a third of women and a fifth of men over the age of 65 needed social care help with a range of basic daily living activities such as bathing, climbing the stairs, taking medicine or using the toilet, they were unable to get it, putting huge pressures on friends and family carers, and leading to unnecessary hospital admissions.
As well as leaving thousands of previously eligible older people without help, those still receiving publicly-funded care may be receiving poorer services because fees to care providers had been squeezed, resulting in staff shortages, high staff turnover or reduced contact hours.
Holly Holder, a co-author of the report at the Nuffield Trust, said: “Our analysis paints a picture of increased rationing of social care by hard-pressed local authorities in response to deep cuts from central government, despite the growing numbers of older people in the population.
“It is highly likely that this is having a negative effect on older people’s health and wellbeing and that of their carers, but without adequate data to assess this impact, the NHS and government are flying blind when it comes to managing demand and planning for the future.”
A separate analysis by Care and Support Alliance, a group of 70 charities also published on Wednesday , claims that thousands more older, chronically ill and disabled people could lose out on publicly-funded social care under new national eligibility regulations expected to be introduced in May after the Care Bill has passed into law.
The Care and Support Alliance says its analysis of draft social care eligibility regulations found that they were likely to exclude thousands of people currently receiving state-funded social care services, including people on the autistic spectrum, and those with brain injuries and sensory loss, who need support to engage in social activity.
Richard Hawkes, chair of the Care and Support Alliance, said: “These findings are incredibly worrying for older and disabled people and their families.
He added: “We’re extremely worried that hundreds of thousands of people who need care to get around the house, to communicate with family, friends or colleagues or to play a part in their community won’t get it.
MPs on the Commons public accounts committee today begin an investigation into the English adult social care system on the back of a National Audit Office report which this month warned ministers that their aim of improving social care services while cutting costs would be “challenging to achieve”.
Norman Lamb, the care and support minister, said the government would address social care challenges by ensuring health and care services worked together more efficiently and cost-effectively.
“With an ageing population, we need to focus on helping people to live independently and prevent them from needing more support. That’s why we’re creating a £3.8bn fund to join up NHS and social care services, saving money and providing better care for people.”
But experts pointed out that while local authority cuts amounting to 15% in real terms have been imposed since 2010, pressures on social care services have escalated as the population ages and people with multiple health conditions and disabilities live longer.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham warned that the social care system was close to collapse: “On David Cameron’s watch, hundreds of thousands of people have lost support in the home. Millions more have seen care charges spiral upwards and now struggle to pay for the support they need. Since the election, ministers have taken almost £2 bn out of budgets for adult social care.”
A spokesman for the Local Government Association said the reports confirmed councils’ views that adult social care funding needed to be put on a sustainable footing or services would remain underfunded and care quality would suffer as a result.
“Caring for older people is one of the most important things councils do, and local authorities have worked tirelessly to protect adult social care from cuts. But we cannot escape the fact that the money councils receive from government to pay for local services will have fallen by 40% by the end of this parliament.”