Carers UK that local authorities are making cuts to respite care services and tightening up eligibility criteria, leaving many carers struggling to cope alone. Some estimates say this may affect as many as half of all local authorities. These cuts to services that support carers were roundly condemned in a House of Lords debate that took place on December 7th.
For many carers a few hours respite care is the only break they get from caring. Yet increasingly, callers to Carers UK's CarersLine service are saying services for the people they care for are being cut back. Often this is without any re-assessments or any consideration of the impact on the carers' health and well being - something that is against the law.
2006 has been a year when the crisis in social care has been getting increased scrutiny. In March Sir Derek Wanless and the Kings Fund published a wide ranging report into the state of social care. They called for sharp increases in funding of social care and an overhaul of the current means-testing funding system. In September Carers UK's own research with the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission highlighted the gap between the care services that are available and the amount of care elderly or disabled people actually need. In November the Local Government Association released a report which said demand for social care is rising by six per cent every year. The report predicted that by 2009/10, up to 370,000 older people currently receiving free low level care could have it withdrawn completely.
House of Lords debate
The cuts were discussed in a House of Lords debate that took place on December 7th. Opening the debate Lord Bruce-Lockhart explained the issues facing local authorities : "A year ago, social service directors reported they spent 13 per cent—£1.8 billion—more on adult social care than the Government estimated for funding." He went to tell the Lords that "half the social service authorities in the country are reporting that they are raising eligibility criteria and so rationing care for the elderly. In a civilised society, that is unacceptable."
Baroness Pitkeathley explained that "Carers UK's helpline increasingly hears from carers whose breaks packages are being cut, where day centres are being closed and domiciliary care packages are being cut back. Local authorities are telling carers that they are short of funds and many are not reassessing carers—in direct breach of the law."
She went on to tell the House of Lords the effect this will have on carers. "The consequences for carers are dire. That way of working is also very short-sighted. If insufficient care is provided, people are likely to give up paid work at a time when they most need to build up pensions and work towards retirement. As a society we simply cannot tolerate that. We must therefore ensure that services for carers are provided in a way that enables them to combine paid work with caring. That means providing support for carers before a crisis point is reached"
What Carers UK has been doing
Carers UK has long been calling for an honest and thorough debate about how care is funded in the future. The cutbacks to services facing many carers right now brings a new urgency to that call. Through our research and lobbying work we are highlighting demographic change and the shocking state of care services in the UK.
We held events on this issue at all three party conferences this year, highlighting the 'demographic timebomb' and examining Lord Wanless' report
We have submitted a response to the Comprehensive Spending Review and raised a number of issues relating to carers and called for a more vigorous debate about the future of social care.
As Secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Carers, we are carrying out a survey of MPs, asking them for evidence from their constituencies.
We are talking to the Minister Ivan Lewis about the White Paper on social care which aims to shift more care from hospitals to community settings.
We are continuing to advise individual carers who find themselves in this difficult situations and collect evidence from carers to present to government and policy makers.
We are supporting the Short Breaks Bill which aims to give parents of disabled children the right to respite care.