NHS care at home for elderly and disabled quietly slashed by a third

Huge pressure on family carers


Care at home for elderly and disabled quietly slashed by a third

By , Social Affairs Editor

The number of frail elderly and disabled people receiving care at home has been slashed by a third in just five years as councils have reined in spending because of pressure from budget cuts, a new study shows.

The squeeze in overall numbers receiving care in England comes at a time when the numbers of older people has been growing almost twice as fast as the general population.

The study led by academics at the academics at the London School of Economics (LSE) exposes the scale of rationing now being applied to help with basic tasks such as washing or dressing.

It concludes that the contraction in the care system in the past five years alone is “unprecedented” and warns that further reductions are likely.

Details of the study, which was commissioned by the Care and Support Alliance, an umbrella group of 75 charities working with elderly and disabled people, were published as a committee of MPs continues the process of revising the Government’s Care Bill.

The long-awaited shake-up of the system will introduce a theoretical £72,000 cap on amount anyone in England should have to pay for care in their lifetime.

It will also bring in a scheme enabling some of those who do have to pay for care to defer the cost, to prevent them having to sell their home while they are alive, and introduce a new national test to establish who is frail enough to qualify for care.

But the study, by the Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU) – a research body involving academics at the LSE and University of Kent – concludes that even if the changes lead to a major new injection of cash into the system, the scale of the cuts in the last few years may have seriously undermined its foundations.

Drawing together local NHS figures, it shows that the number of adults – combining both elderly and disabled people – receiving care either in their own home or in care homes has dropped by 27 per cent overall from a high of 1.3 million in 2008 to fewer than 930,000 last year.

While the number of adults in care homes is down by just eight per cent in that time, the numbers receiving help in their own homes has plunged by 31 per cent.

Yet the drop was even more steep among older people than disabled people, plunging by 36 per cent from 652,000 five years ago to just 418,000.

The decline in the numbers of older people in care homes in that time was a more modest nine per cent in that time.

But the squeeze came at a time when, according to official figures, the number of people has been growing dramatically. Between 2005 and 2012 the number of over-65s in England leapt by a million – or 12.5 per cent – to 9.1 million.

The authors, led by Dr Jose-Luis Fernandez of the LSE, estimated that if the decline in the number of older people getting care is adjusted for the population changes, it would amount to a drop of almost 40 per cent.

The main reason for the decline has been hat councils have been quietly tightening their eligibility criteria for care, rationing it to all but those in the most severe need.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope and chairman of the Care and Support Alliance, said: “You can’t tackle the winter A&E crisis, without looking at the historic squeeze on social care.

“We now know that community-based care has been hit hard.

“Chronic underfunding has left hundreds of thousands of older and disabled people, who need support to do the basics, like getting up or out of the house, out of the care system.

“Without that support they become isolated, more likely to slip into crisis and end up in A&E.

“The Government has put forward strong proposals in its Care Bill, which will greatly improve a social care system which is on its knees.

“But it’s becoming clear that a huge number of older and disabled people will not see any of the benefits of the new system, because of plans to tightly restrict who gets care. This will place huge pressure on family carers.

“We want the Government to have the courage to see its bold plans through, and make sure that those who need support to live independently get community-based care.

“The Minister has engaged with the sector and acknowledged the issue.

“But the Government needs to commit to properly funding the social care system.”