Research for the Sunday Times today proves what many already knew – funding for elderly care by local authorities is highly variable and can alter dramatically between authorities only a few miles away from each other, and in that sense mirrors one of the common complaints of NHS treatments. We have long campaigned for much clearer advice and guidance for those considering care for the elderly, but today’s revelation will make a confused system even harder to unravel. People will now have to consider where they live in addition to their own financial circumstances when approaching their local social services for care.
The first question that will spring to people’s lips is why? The government originally issued guidelines, Fair Access to Care in 2003, which were then revised in 2010 under the Putting People first initiative. These were aimed at local authorities and aimed to give them a framework for assessing and categorising people’s care needs under 4 main areas, low, moderate, substantial and then critical. However, as funding pressures have grown, these same local authorities have found it increasingly difficult to keep to the set criteria, with many introducing sub-groups or different classifications as a way of trying to make what funds they did have go further. Matters came to a head earlier this year with Birmingham City Council taken to court, and subsequently losing, over its decision to withdraw care for a group of disabled people. Every day commissioning managers are having to make hugely significant decisions over who is eligible for care and who isn’t when faced with significant cuts in funding.
Do we need to look elsewhere for the villain of the piece, if indeed there is one at all? The coalition has cut £1.3Bn from local authority elderly care budgets since coming to power and it is these cuts which will have gone a long way to exacerbating the situation this research highlights. Yet the difference in funding between some councils varies massively, with two neighbouring councils in Yorkshire having over a £10,000 difference in the maximum contribution for care. Are some councils better at husbanding resources than others or do others have older demographic profiles meaning the pressures on their budgets are more acute? These questions merit further investigation, but in the modern age one’s postcode should not define one’s ability to receive care. the sooner the government creates a level playing field the better.