Six consecutive years of cuts to local authority budgets, rising demand for services and shortages of staff have left the social care system increasingly unable to meet the needs of the older people who depend on it, a report claims.
It says the care and support older people receive increasingly depends on where they live and how much money they have rather than their needs.
The report by the King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust finds that this is placing an unacceptable burden on unpaid carers and is leaving rising numbers of older people who have difficulty with the basic activities of daily living – such as washing, dressing and getting out of bed – without any support at all.
It highlights evidence that reductions in fees paid by local authorities and other cost pressures such as the National Living Wage are squeezing the incomes of residential and home care providers.
It warns that an increasing number are likely to leave the market or go out of business as a result, potentially leaving older people without the care they depend on.
The squeeze on the budgets of care providers is also prompting some providers in affluent areas to step back from providing care for people funded by local authorities, leaving those who depend on council funding reliant on an increasingly threadbare safety net.
At the same time, more people are having to pay for their own care as a result of cuts to local authority services.
The report highlights a growing funding gap within the existing, inadequate system which will reach at least £2.8 billion by 2019/20 as public spending on adult social care shrinks to less than 1% of GDP.
The lack of investment in social care is having significant implications for the acute sector in the NHS, which is struggling to discharge patients back into the community without appropriate social care support.
RCP president Professor Jane Dacre said: “When primary and community care systems fail, it often results in prolonged hospital admissions, creating a vicious circle. The NHS also faces a daily struggle to find appropriate services for older people who no longer need to be in hospital.
“We must all work together to create joined-up, properly funded and organised services to give older people the care they deserve.”
If the government is unwilling to properly fund and expand the current system, the report says it must be honest with the public about what they can expect from local authority services so they can plan ahead and make their own arrangements.
It calls for a fresh debate about how to pay for social care in the future.
The report launch coincides with the publication of new research commissioned by the Richmond Group of Charities and supported by the British Red Cross and the Royal Voluntary Service. ‘Real Lives’ documents the experiences of a number of older people with the social care system and the myriad of challenges they face in getting the support they need.
It highlights the human reality of a system struggling to cope.
Richard Humphries, Assistant Director of Policy at The King’s Fund said: ‘‘The failure of successive governments to reform social care has resulted in a failing system that leaves older people, their families and carers to pick up the pieces.
“Putting this right will be a key test of the Prime Minister’s promise of a more equal country that works for everyone – there is no more burning injustice in Britain today than older people being denied the care they need to live with independence and dignity.”
Ann Tomline lives in Oxfordshire and cares for her husband, who has memory loss and severe anxiety.
She said: “The system is too complex; it’s not very user friendly and lots of money is wasted. There are so many people who don’t know how to get support. We need a simpler and more flexible system so that more people get the help that they need.”