English social care system for elderly facing ‘complete collapse’

Social care in England is at risk of imminent collapse in the worst affected areas unless urgent steps are taken to address the crisis engulfing the sector, Age UK has warned.

The charity’s latest report on the healthcare of older people calls for a cash injection into the adult social care system in the spring budget and the development of a long-term solution to a problem that will otherwise become more acute.

Analysis previously published by Age UK suggests almost 1.2 million people aged 65 and over do not receive the care and support they need with essential daily activities such as eating, dressing and bathing.

That figure has shot up by 17.9% in just a year and almost by 50% since 2010, with nearly one in eight now living with some level of unmet need, it says.

Age UK’s charity director, Caroline Abrahams, said the report makes for “frightening reading”, adding: “Unless something changes the crisis will certainly deepen this year and next, and we think there is now a real risk of a complete collapse in social care in the worst affected areas. If this happened it would be a disaster that would threaten the health and even the lives of the older people affected. It would also greatly intensify pressure on our hospitals.

“Some older people and their families are already telling us that they simply cannot find any carers where they live, and we are also hearing of vulnerable older people receiving council-funded care whose help has been significantly reduced, leaving them to manage alone for many hours at a time.”

The charity says the government’s three ways of propping up the system – financial transfers from the NHS, a social care precept in local areas, and calling on families and friends to do more – are inadequate and cannot make up for a “chronic” shortfall of public funds. The report, published on Thursday, says the NHS can ill-afford to bail out social care, the amount the precept (an additional council tax charge) can raise does not match the needs in every area, particularly poorer ones, and the number of families and friends becoming carers is not keeping pace with a rising ageing population.

It concludes that the government’s strategy for keeping the social care system from falling apart is not up to scratch. The charity warns that the situation will only deteriorate further as rising demand is accompanied by budget cuts and more care home providers pulling out of the market. 

Margaret Willcox, president-elect of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said the report “reflects the concerns of the whole sector united in the belief that adult social care is at risk of failure to chronic underfunding”.

A government spokesman said it was making £7.6bn of new money available for adult social care: “This government has gone further to integrate health and social care than any other before it. We have brought budgets together for the first time through the Better Care Fund and given the NHS an extra £10bn per year by 2020/21 to fund its own plan to build a more responsive, modern health system.”