Care Act demands likely to overwhelm Councils

Concerns are being raised by adult social care directors in England that they may not be able to meet the duties placed on them under the Care Act which comes into force next month.

Meanwhile there’s a warning that the demands on the system to fulfil new rights for carers are ‘likely to dwarf the new funding made available’. That’s according to research carried out by Independent Age, the older people’s charity, and the MJ, the UK’s leading weekly magazine for council chief executives and senior managers.

The analysis finds that:

From April 2015 the Care Act, which has been described by the Government as “the biggest reforms to the social care system in more than 60 years”, will come into force. It will place new duties on local authorities and affect the funding system and legal framework of adult social care. The rights of those in need of social care will also be strengthened. The government has committed £470 million for implementing the reforms.

The research was carried out with 24 Directors of Adult Social Services across England. Councils told Independent Age and the MJ that although they support the aims of the Care Act, many didn’t feel realistic levels of funding are in place to properly implement it.

Currently there are over 1.2 million older carers in England, however it is estimated that only 80,000 (7%) of them receive services from local authorities. The Care Act could bring tens of thousands of additional carers into the social care system yet one of the respondents told us that “the main concern in respect of the new requirement is that the new duties towards carers will cost more than the funding available”. Another said they were expecting millions of pounds of “pressure on budgets just to meet the new carers’ duties”.

The Care Act introduces a new wellbeing duty, which means the decisions a local authority takes about an individual’s care and support must consider the impact on their wellbeing. However one research participant said, “The wellbeing duty is more broad than our current approach and could require us to meet a wider set of needs” but “will realistically come down to affordability”.

Worries about the ability to cope with a rise in self-funder assessments and calls for social care funding to be increased and ring-fenced were also highlighted.

Janet Morrison, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said: “It is absolutely right that carers are getting a fairer deal under the Care Act. For too long, carers have been denied the basic help they need to manage their caring role, but we worry these aspirations risk not being fulfilled. The Budget is less than two weeks away and local authorities must get the funding they need to carry out their responsibilities. This means protecting spending on adult care in the same way politicians of all parties have pledged to protect the NHS.”

Heather Jameson, Editor of the MJ, said: “We have reached a crisis in adult social care that is just not going to go away without a radical overhaul of public services across the board. Protecting health budgets while cutting council cash will just create tensions between the two when they should be working together to provide a seamless service.”

David Pearson, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), said: “The Care Act is the most significant reform to health and social care in recent years and naturally directors will have concerns about its implementation. We and other stakeholders have been working closely with the Department of Health to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.

“Regular stocktakes with all councils have been taking place and have shown some confidence in our ability to deliver the legislation. While there are concerns, particularly about making sure the changes are properly funded, we are pleased the government has committed to actively monitoring demands over the next year so that we can assess and manage emerging pressures.

“Those pressures will include the fact that any new funding for new responsibilities is in the context of a 26%, £3.5 billion reduction in social care funding in the last four years. We also know that there is projected to be a £4.3 billion funding gap for social care opening up between now and 2020.”

Rob Whiteman, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy said: “There are rising fears that the financial consequences of the Care Act will be far more significant for councils than has been anticipated. And while the government has recognised this in part, we are concerned that the full ramifications of this have simply been thought too difficult to deal with.

“There are also concerns that there will be possible shortfalls as local authorities will have to find funds to replace the drop in financial contributions from service users. This must be addressed and in the process it should be made very clear exactly what new burdens authorities are going to be expected to shoulder.”