Government must rethink ‘unrealistic’ Care Act implementation timetable, MPs warn

The government’s timetable for Care Act implementation is unrealistic given the pressure on council social care services and must be rethought, an MPs’ committee has said.

The public accounts committee’s review of adult social care questioned the feasibility of the government’s expectation that councils make “measurable progress” on implementing the Act from April 2015. A more realistic timetable should be set that recognises the sector’s “limited capacity” to meet the extra demands that the Act will bring alongside spending cuts, the review found.

The Care Act will introduce a series of new duties on councils, including a duty to assess carers’ needs and provide support. The latest annual budget survey by the Association of Directors of Adults Social Services found councils in England have had to make cuts of 26% in their social care budgets, or £3.5bn, between 2010 and 2014 once inflation and demographic pressures are taken into account.

The committee’s review found that the Department of Health (DH) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) had little understanding of the scale of the challenges facing local authorities or the costs of implementing the Act.

“We are concerned that the departments have not fully addressed the future sustainability of adult social care system and that its policies to drive change are risky, are not supported with new money, and do not acknowledge the scale of the problem,” the report said.

Margaret Hodge, the committee’s chair said: “The departments recognise the complexities and risks involved but we are not convinced that the responsible bodies will deliver on these ambitions and are concerned that they are raising expectations too high.

“The departments should quantify the new burdens the Care Act will introduce for local authorities, establish a realistic timetable for implementation given the financial constraints, and acknowledge the limits on the sector’s capacity to absorb the growing need for care with falling public funding.”

The committee’s report is based on evidence gathered from the government, Adass and the charities Age UK and Carers UK. The report also draws on the findings of a National Audit Office review of adult social care published in March of this year, which found the government lacked understanding of the risks facing the social care system.

The review also raises a series of concerns about the current state of services. The pressure on social services budgets had led to local authorities squeezing providers, which has led to low pay for care workers, low skill levels “and inevitably poorer levels of service to users”, the report said. The committee heard that in some areas councils pay private care providers £13 an hour for care, but the workers would only earn minimum wage of £6.31 an hour.

The quality of joint working across government departments was also variable, the committee found. While the DH and DCLG had worked well together, collaboration with the Department for Work and Pensions was poor despite changes to the care and welfare systems impacting on one another.

The committee pointed to the fact that the DWP’s move to scrap disability living allowance for clients of working age and replace it with personal independence payment will see an expected 600,000 fewer disabled people receiving cost of living support.

Meanwhile, tighter restrictions on social care were leading to many people giving up work to care for loved-ones, a change that is “adding to the benefit bill and reducing tax revenues”, the review found.

A DH spokesperson said: “The Care Act will make the social care system fairer. We know we need a skilled, valued and fairly paid workforce and are working with councils to clamp down on rushed visits and ensure they work with providers that have fair pay, terms and conditions for staff.”