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3 December 2012
The extent of the social care crisis is highlighted in a new Age UK and College of Social Work survey of members.
The study of over 200 social workers with responsibility for adult social care showed that 85% have witnessed the impact of a reduction in front line services over the last year, with implications for the care and dignity for England's most vulnerable older people.
The results provide a startling insight into the state of adult social care in England as austerity cuts bite and support The College's campaign to defend the role of social workers in adult services.
The College has produced a report, The Business Case for Social Work with Adults, highlighting its concerns, which will be presented at a joint parliamentary briefing with Age UK on Tuesday (December 4). The report argues the case that investing in social work not only promotes the care and dignity of service users but is a cost effective way of meeting the growing need for older people's social care.
According to Age UK, this year's spend on older people's social care nationwide has fallen half a billion pounds short of even maintaining the inadequate levels in place when the Coalition came to power in 2010 .
Since 2004, social care funding stagnated, and then decreased, despite an increase of more than 250,000 people aged 85 or over, the group most likely to require social care.
The responses of the frontline social workers who took part in the Age UK/College survey overwhelmingly reported that funding pressures were jeopardising the quantity and quality of care available to vulnerable older people. Over 95% of social workers who reported cuts to services said the reduction presented a risk to the dignity of their older clients, while 70% expressed a worrying lack of confidence that local authority funded older clients always received the right quantity and quality of social care.
The survey results suggest that a shortfall in social care provision has led to increased pressures on the NHS, with 65% of the social workers reporting a rise in emergency re-admissions among older clients over the last year. The impact of the cuts are being felt by self-funders across a wide range of social care services, with 70% of social workers reporting a hike in charges for day care centres, home care or community transport.
Cutbacks to local authority budgets mean that two thirds of respondents (65%) now have less face-to-face time with their clients, who will, by their very nature be vulnerable and in need of social work support. Nearly nine in ten (89%) of social workers surveyed also said the cuts had led to an increase in their workload.
There is still no cross-party consensus on the future funding of social care. While the Government deliberates on the Dilnot recommendation of a £35,000 cap on the lifetime cost of care, the issue of the current level of unmet social care need remains unresolved.
Age UK Charity Director General Michelle Mitchell said,'The crisis in social care is an increasingly desperate one, denying older people their dignity and peace of mind at the point of greatest vulnerability. The care system is fragmenting and cannot change unless the Government changes its policies.
'This survey sheds an important light on the scale of current underfunding and shows that cuts to frontline services are having a severe impact on those older people struggling to live with chronic illness and disability.
'Age UK calls on the Government to recognise and close the current funding gap, and to build on the programme of legislative reform set out by the White Paper by establishing a fair and sustainable system of social care funding.'
The College of Social Work's Adult Faculty Chair Bernard Walker said:'This survey supports what we have been hearing anecdotally from our members for some time.
'As well as struggling under the weight of increased workloads, social workers are spending more and more time trying to access dwindling budgets to provide levels of care provision that people need.
'While we appeal to the government to urgently address the social care funding crisis, we would also urge local authorities to note the compelling moral and financial arguments for investing in social work.'