Over the last four years the number of people receiving council funded adult social care services has fallen by 17.5% and, given that in certain areas such as people with learning disabilities the numbers have increased, the majority of the decline in funded services has hit older people who are targeted under ever tightening eligibility criteria for Local Authority service.
This, of course, flies in the face of what we know about the population in general, the population is increasing and people are living longer so, in fact, we should be seeing an increase in the numbers of people accessing funded social care services, therefore we are seeing a bigger decline in services than the figures initially suggest, even if the numbers were to remain static it would, in real terms, still be a decrease.
Unfortunately much of the policy obsession (obsession used in a limited sense!) is focused on implementing the Dilnot proposals and focused on how much individuals should pay for their care. What this misses is the numbers of people who have no way of paying for their care and are entitled to local authority funded services, the numbers of which are decreasing at an alarming rate despite the fact they should be increasing.
In cases where older people do not meet ‘eligibility’ criteria the role of providing care and support goes to family and friends who, in essence, provide a free service for the state or, if they receive carers allowance, for the princely sum of £58.45 a week (subject to providing a minimum of 35 hours care - so £1.67 per hour!) and many do not receive the allowance because they have an ‘overlapping’ benefit. Research by Carers UK and the University of Leeds shows that, over the past ten years the number of those providing care has increased by 9% with the biggest increase in those aged over 65.
There are costs to looking after someone on a full time basis, particularly when it means giving up full time employment, not only are there the financial implications but also there is evidence of impact on health, well-being and social exclusion. There is help available for carers and many receive local authority assessments but, in terms of the wider social care picture, very little has been done to redress the increasing numbers needed to meet the shortfall in local authority provided services.
Despite these facts the plight of the most needy older people is still being overshadowed by the focus on who pays for care, and while this is important it is only a small part of the overall social care picture.
We need to widen the social care debate at national level which is why I have started an petition call for a Cabinet Minister for social care – I hope you will take the time to sign and pass on to others - http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/39701