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Tuesday, 08 November 2016

Families engaging solicitors over 'illegal' social care cuts amid £1.9bn funding gap

Written by The Press Association

Families are planning on mounting legal challenges over "illegal" cuts to social care, as a £1.9bn funding gap threatens services, experts say.

The King's Fund, Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation said Chancellor Philip Hammond must address the funding shortfall in his autumn statement later this month to avoid thousands more people being denied social care.

Between 2009/10 and 2014/15, there was a 9% real terms cut in social care spending by councils which led to 400,000 fewer people getting the help they needed, a report from the three organisations said.

Richard Humphries, assistant director of policy at the King's Fund, warned that councils faced legal challenges for failing to carry out their duties under the Care Act, including promoting wellbeing and providing high-quality care to elderly and disabled people.

He pointed to rising numbers of complaints on the issue to the Local Government Ombudsman and a rise in the number of complaints upheld.

"The ombudsman is upholding a bigger number of complaints, which shows that councils are struggling," he said, adding that the complaints were a "warning sign".

Mark Harrison, chief executive of the disability rights charity Equal Lives, said he was aware of several families that were consulting solicitors with a view to mounting legal challenges against cuts to social care.

He said: "Some people have lost their eligibility for social care, despite having had it for many years previously. We believe this is illegal. Others have seen their care packages cut by 60, 70 or 80%."

Mr Harrison said the cuts were affecting disabled people of all ages.

In April, the Government rejected a request from Equal Lives to investigate Norfolk Council over claims it was disregarding its Care Act duties.

Equal Lives says the council has acted illegally and has removed wellbeing payments from disabled people as well as presiding over other cuts.

The council has refuted the claim it breached legal duties.

Equal Lives asked Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to order the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to inspect the council and included details of eight individual cases.

Former care minister Alistair Burt wrote back and said councils were best placed to make decisions about meeting local demand and need for social services. He said it was not the Government's responsibility to manage their performance or delivery of services.

A subsequent local review by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) was also criticised by Equal Lives for focusing on improving the productiveness and job satisfaction of social workers and failing to address the wider issues for disabled people.

Earlier this year, a survey of all 151 social care directors by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) found that only 36% felt fully confident of being able to deliver all of their statutory duties under the Care Act this year.

This figure fell to 8% who said they were sure they could meet their legal duties next year.

The King's Fund, Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation said that, despite increasing pressures on the NHS, finding money to plug the gap in social care funding must be an "urgent priority" for the Government.

They also stated that Government claims it is putting in an extra £10bn into the NHS are "inaccurate" and rely "on a significant change in the interpretation of NHS spending". They said the true figure was £4.2bn.

MPs from the Commons health committee have also challenged the £10bn figure, saying the Government is misleading the public.

Experts agree that cuts to social care are having a big impact on the NHS, including causing so-called "bed blocking".

This is when hospital beds are taken up with people who are medically fit to leave because social care packages in the community are not in place that would enable them to be safely discharged.

The new report says: "The urgent priority for the autumn statement is to address the critical state of social care.

"Our research has found that the system is increasingly struggling to meet the care needs of older people, their families and carers, and the human and financial costs of this are mounting."

Under the Care Act, councils must ensure that people in their care receive services that prevent their care needs from becoming more serious, or delay the impact of their needs.

They must also identify people in the local area who might have care and support needs that are not being met and equally identify carers with needs.

Izzi Seccombe, from the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils, said: "The Government must use the autumn statement to provide councils with the funding to ensure we have a fair care system which keeps people out of hospital and living independent, dignified lives at home and in the community."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "Social care funding is increasing - we are giving local councils access to up to £3.5 billion extra for adult social care by 2020 to make sure the right care is available for people when they leave hospital, and to join up health and social care for the first time.

"We have also backed the NHS's own plan with a £10 billion real-terms increase in funding, helping to ease pressure on hospitals, GPs, and mental health services."

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