Councils planning savage cuts to adult care spending

4 Mar 10
Adult care budgets are set to be slashed as councils strive to safeguard children’s social services in the wake of recent high-profile child protection failures, public spending experts have warned.
By Lucy Phillips

4 March 2010

Adult care budgets are set to be slashed as councils strive to safeguard children’s social services in the wake of recent high-profile child protection failures, public spending experts have warned.

In a week when the scale of local government funding cuts was highlighted by a BBC survey, data from CIPFA suggested that three out of five local authorities (59%) in England and Wales planned to cut adult social care budgets by an average of 7% in 2010/11. While some 87% of councils said they would reduce spending on children’s services, the cuts will be much smaller, at just 1%.

Although only 39 local authorities were able to give spending forecasts for these areas, CIPFA head of policy Ian Carruthers told Public Finance it pointed to a trend that saw no services ‘out of bounds’ when it came to cuts, even those previously judged politically sacrosanct.

But he warned that budgets for children’s social services were being given more protection to the detriment of adult ones. Whereas cuts of 1% could be achieved through general efficiency savings, anything above that would hit frontline services, he said. ‘If local authorities are looking at overall savings of between 10% and 20%, if you protect certain services the level of cuts in other areas would be up to 30%-40%.’

In adult social care, eligibility for free services would be tightened and charges for home help increased, Carruthers said.

John Dixon, joint committee chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Care and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said authorities were ‘fearful’ of making cuts to children’s services in the wake of public concern over the deaths of Baby Peter in Haringey and Khyra Ishaq in Birmingham. Following these incidents, caseloads rose by 30%, but Dixon said: ‘It’s not clear that the need has risen’.

Adult care services, on the other hand, had to cope with increases in numbers of elderly people and those with learning difficulties.

He said:  ‘It is worrying because it is not a proper balance of needs and resources… Money is dropping fast and if you are having to increase your spending on children’s services, you will have to reduce spending on other services very dramatically.’

Dixon, who is also executive director of adult and children’s services at West Sussex County Council, warned that scope for cutting back-office functions had ‘been exhausted in most places quite a time back’ so departments would be forced to slash preventative services and youth projects. He also expected bigger staff reductions in adult social care than in children’s.

Tony Travers, local government expert at the London School of Economics, agreed that some areas of social care would suffer more because of the protection afforded to more ‘politically salient’ services. He expected care services for vulnerable adults, such as community-based mental health provision, to experience ‘deeper cuts’ because of the safety nets given to children’s services and elderly care – for which the ageing population meant there was no choice but to increase provision.
Travers added that if a government decided to further increase demands for elderly care through more free entitlements, they needed ‘to put up enough money to pay for it or pressure on everything else will become greater’.

The CIPFA survey also found that spending on environmental and regulatory services would be hard hit, with 61% of 74 responding authorities making average cuts of 4.4% in 2010/11. Carruthers said bi-weekly rather than weekly rubbish collections would become more commonplace.

In other areas, he predicted councils would make savings by raising planning charges, reducing support for local arts groups and theatres, cutting leisure services and scaling back on highways and housing maintenance. ‘People are going to have to get used to expecting less in terms of public services or expect to be charged in areas they have not been, or a combination of both,’ added Carruthers.

As councils continue to grapple with their finances, local government staff will also be in the line of fire. The BBC has predicted 25,000 job losses in the next three to five years, although Travers put the figure much higher, saying 100,000 was a more probable estimate.

The government said nobody could be sure how many posts would go and whether efficiency savings could be made without harming frontline services.

A local government task force, set up by Communities Secretary John Denham, published a report on March 1 outlining ten ways for councils to protect local services. These included streamlining management, increasing purchasing power through group procurement and making more use of shared services. 

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