Disabled people 'left without the care they need, in breach of the law'

By agency reporter
October 25, 2018

A new survey by the Care and Support Alliance (CSA) has found that more than a quarter (29 per cent) of disabled 18 – 64-year-olds who rely on council funding have had their care cut over the last year.

Yet respondents to this online survey often reported that there had been no change in their needs, or even a worsening of their condition, so it seems disabled people’s legal rights to care are widely being breached. In the most worrying cases, the health, safety and wellbeing of these people was being jeopardised as a result.

The Care Act is absolutely clear that the amount of care people receive should be based on an objective assessment of their needs, and that councils have a duty to ensure that anyone whose needs fit the ‘substantial’ criterion are met. However, an estimated £6.3 billion has been taken out of adult social care in real terms since 2010 and overall council budgets were cut by 49 per cent in real terms over the same period because of the Government’s policy of austerity. Meanwhile, need has steadily increased because of a rise in the numbers of older people and disabled people, creating an ever bigger gap between the demand for and supply of care. It would not be surprising therefore if cash strapped councils had been forced down a path of restricting the care they provide – but any such move would be in clear breach of the law and in defiance of disabled people’s rights.

People who are entitled to receive council funded care have very considerable needs and require help with everyday basics the rest of us take for granted like getting dressed, eating and getting out of the house. Those whose care is funded by the council will have been assessed as not being able to pay for all or some of their care, so will also be living on a very low income. Failure to receive all the care you need in this situation can have a devastating impact.

The CSA research undertaken this year also revealed that regardless of how their care is funded, too many are going without even the most basic care. Nearly half of respondents to the survey said that because of a lack of care they have experienced not being able to get out of the house (48 per cent) and not being able to work (46 per cent), or have seen their health deteriorate (49 per cent). In addition, nearly a quarter (24 per cent) said they are unable to move around their homes safely because of not having the social care they need.

The alliance of over 80 organisations and charities is urging the Government to address the chronic underfunding of social care in the Budget on 29 October 2018. Experts say that at least £2.5 billion is needed to protect the social care system from the risk of further catastrophic decline in the next financial year (2019/2020), and to resource councils to deliver their duties under the Care Act.

The Government recently pledged £240 million to ensure that people who need care do not stay longer than necessary in hospital this winter. While this investment is welcome, it is only a stop-gap that does not address the chronic and systemic shortage of funding for care in local areas.

Social care user Rachel Looby, 31, from Harrogate, needed medical help after the amount of social care she received was cut. She said: “When my hours were cut it was a stressful time for me. I took the wrong medication and ended up in hospital, and this made me feel like my health had not been considered at all. Being in hospital left me feeling anxious and upset and I worried if something else might happen once I got home.”

Julie Sharp, 32, from Rotherham, has Triple X syndrome, a genetic condition which affects her neurological and endocrine systems, impacting her balance and coordination. She said: “Last year, I had my care cut from 42 hours to zero. I had been using the care, for amongst other things, to help with meals. Without any care I tried cooking for myself but couldn’t follow the recipe and ended up with such bad food poisoning I was in hospital for five days. Severe dehydration, with my conditions could have been fatal.
“I have continued to fight this year for my care, and many consultants have written to social services on my behalf, only now it seems I might be getting funding again but through direct payments where I have to be an employer, which is more than I can understand. No one listens, I can’t cope with this.”

Other respondents said: “Money is short in the area … my social worker said if I get support then others don’t.”

“Care package hasn’t changed, my income hasn’t changed, but council now only fund 1/4 of costs for carer as they don’t count mortgage or costs of running a car as living expenses.”

“It’s complicated as I care for my wife and I also have MS as well. The hours that my wife had for carers to come in and help was cut last year. Which had put more of a strain on me, and some days I really, really struggle.” 

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society and co-Chair of the Care and Support Alliance, said: “It is scandalous that the rights of disabled people are being denied and that they are going without the care they need. As a result, some are being placed at risk and, more generally, disabled people’s opportunities to live full and productive lives are being seriously undermined. This is a false economy for our society and disastrous for the individuals concerned.

“Evidence of the law being breached is widespread and compelling, and the cuts to council budgets since 2010 have been of such a scale that it would be little surprise if care is now being ‘rationed’, even though this should be impossible according to the Care Act.

“The Government must ensure that at least £2.5 billion goes into the social care system in 2019/20 and announce this in the Budget. In addition, the social care Green Paper to be published later this year must contain proposals that give disabled people real confidence that our care system will be placed on a much firmer financial foundation over the next few years.”

Kari Gerstheimer, Director of Information and Advice at Mencap, said: “We have seen an upwards trend in calls about social care and safeguarding issues linked to the worsening cuts. When Mencap challenges decisions, they are frequently reversed. Local authorities are making unlawful decisions because there is not enough money in the system.

“There is no point having a duty to provide care in the law but for councils to be powerless to provide it for budget reasons. The Government must provide an urgent injection of cash, at least £2.5 billion and push on with urgent and sustainable reforms to social care. Unless this happens we are bound to see a continuing increase of neglect and safeguarding cases.”

Last year, 2017, the Care and Support Alliance conducted research which showed that the majority of social workers, and other professionals who undertake care assessments, felt expected by their managers to reduce the help on offer to people in need of social care. Social workers also revealed their experiences. One said: “We are being encouraged to write care plans that do not include any form of social interaction.”, another said: “The view within the council is that only 20 per cent of all those assessed should be receiving formalised care packages from the local authority and that 80 per cent should only receive information and advice.”

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) warned this year that 75 per cent of directors said that reducing the number of people in receipt of care is important or very important for them to achieve necessary savings. They warned: “This approach risks falling the wrong side of a fine line: if a reduction of those in receipt of care is an outcome of a strategy to develop asset-based, preventive approaches, this is a positive aspiration, but if it is about gatekeeping resources then it risks people in need being left without services, which would be unlawful and financially risky.

Since the survey was conducted, financial problems for councils have hit the headlines as several have come close to bankruptcy as a result of delivering the services they have been legally required to provide. Northamptonshire, East Sussex, Somerset are among a number of councils which have come close to financial collapse, which is even more worrying, given that recent research by the County Council Network shows that Government imposed cuts will continue, with around a further £683 million estimated to hit local authorities in 2019/2020.

* The Care and Support Alliance is a coalition of more than 80 charities (including Scope, MS Society, Mencap, National Autistic Society and Sense) – who are calling for a properly funded care system http://careandsupportalliance.com/

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