Surge in demand for social care puts Council’s budget at breaking point

Plymouth City Council is urgently managing a projected £5.2 million overspend caused by unprecedented demand for social care services and years of Government funding cuts.

Council leaders say pressures in managing big increases in the number of vulnerable children and adults needing essential care while Government funding declines year after year has put the budget at breaking point.

The projected £5.2 million gap in managing the budget for 2018/19 has been identified by financial monitoring which showed significant additional costs in children’s social care over the last few months requiring an extra £4.1 million for essential care for vulnerable young people.

A budget monitoring report to the Cabinet says that as well as a big rise in the number of vulnerable children needing care, the cost of the care is particularly high due to the level of support needed to keep young people safe, such as specialist residential care placements with high levels of staffing. A number of very costly care packages are the result of Court of Protection orders that place a duty on the Council to provide specialist care.

The Council is committed to fulfilling its duty to safeguard vulnerable children and is working to find savings in other areas to address the shortfall.

At the same time the Council is dealing with very high demand for adult social care as more frail elderly residents and people with dementia need support, costing an extra £481,000.

The report says it is also seeing an increase in homeless families needing temporary accommodation, which is costing an extra £168,000.

Councillor Mark Lowry, Cabinet member for Finance, said: “We’ve had to manage year after year of cuts to our Government funding but we are now close to breaking point. There’s absolutely no room in our budgets to meet the exceptional increase in demand for social care that we are now facing. We absolutely must – and will – protect these vulnerable young people.

“We are seeing the consequences of 10 years of the Government’s austerity programme through a rapid increase in the number of very vulnerable people needing help, whether due to age and frailty, illness, poor mental health, abuse or homelessness. The cost of supporting some individuals is very high due to the severity of their problems and the need for high levels of personal care.

“We are seeing the impact of a social care market that is broken nationally. Despite the whole local government community calling for action, the Government continues to fail to address the problem. The money for social care announced in the Chancellor’s budget is just a drop in the ocean and will be of little help to us in addressing this problem.”

Plymouth’s position reflects a national problem and similar rises in demand and costs are being experienced by many other authorities around the country. There are currently 424 children with care packages and the number of children in the city needing residential places has doubled since 2014.

Supporting children and adults accounts for around 55 per cent of the City Council’s annual revenue budget of £186 million and it is required by law to provide most the services.

Urgent work is under way to find £5.2 million savings across the Council to close the funding gap for 2018/19. This is particularly difficult as it comes on top of existing savings targets to address the year on year cuts in the Government’s funding, which will have decreased by 88 per cent by 2020.

This financial year the Council has had to find £11 million of savings, after delivering £18 million last year.

Councillor Lowry said: “We are working extremely hard to deal with the projected overspend and are dealing with this as a whole council problem. After many years of having to reduce spending as our funding is cut, our options are now extremely limited.

“We are going through all budgets with a fine-tooth comb to squeeze out every saving we possibly can but we’re going to have to make very difficult decisions about the level of service we can provide in future unless the Government urgently addresses the crisis in social care and properly takes account of local need.”

What local government leaders are saying about the issues facing social care

The problems faced by Plymouth City Council and many other councils across the UK are being highlighted repeatedly by national organisations, which are lobbying for Government action.

On children’s social care crises the Local Government Association (LGA) says:

“Since 2010 councils have worked hard to manage a core reduction in funding of £16 billion through innovation, efficiencies, scale-backs and the decommissioning of non-statutory services. We have previously warned that councils face a funding gap of nearly £8 billion by 2025.

“Councils have seen a significant rise in demand for child protection services over the last decade, including a 158% increase in serious cases where the local authority believes a child may be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.

“An average of more than 270 children are now taken into care or placed on a child protection plan every single day.

“We know that without a sustainable, long-term funding solution, councils will struggle to continue this good work and deliver long-term benefits for children, families and communities.

“Councils need guaranteed, long-term funding commitments to ensure that they can develop programmes that will consistently protect and care for all children and young people, but especially those that are vulnerable.”

 On the crisis in funding adult social care, the LGA says:

“Years of significant underfunding of councils, coupled with rising demand and costs for care and support, have combined to push adult social care services to breaking point.

“Since 2010 councils have had to bridge a £6 billion funding shortfall just to keep the adult social care system going. In addition the LGA estimates that adult social care services face a £3.5 billion funding gap by 2025, just to maintain existing standards of care, while latest figures show that councils in England receive 1.8 million new requests for adult social care a year – the equivalent of nearly 5,000 a day.

“Decades of failures to find a sustainable solution to how to pay for adult social care for the long-term, and the Government’s recent decision to delay its long-awaited green paper on the issue until the autumn, has prompted council leaders to take action.

“Short-term cash injections have not prevented care providers reluctantly closing their operations or returning contracts to councils and less choice and availability to a rising number of people with care needs. This is increasing the strain on an already-overstretched workforce and unpaid carers, and leading to more people not having their care needs met.

“Increased spend on adult social care – which now accounts for nearly 40 per cent of total council budgets – is threatening the future of other vital council services, such as parks, leisure centres and libraries, which help to keep people well and from needing care and support and hospital treatment.”

Glen Garrod, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), responded to the Chancellor’s recent budget saying:

“It would seem that that era of austerity is indeed not at an end for older and disabled people.

“The detail in the Red Book reveals that the announced funding of £650 million for social care is in fact a core of £410 million which will need to be negotiated in local Councils between children and adult services – both of which are hard pressed.

Whilst this additional funding is indeed positive, it is both inadequate and temporary. There is also £240m in 2019/20 to continue the winter pressures funding that supports the NHS.

“The detail in the budget creates an invidious situation affecting older and disabled people locally.  Their needs will be competing with those of different Council departments, projected overspends, dwindling or exhausted reserves, supporting NHS needs and the needs of children and young people…

“… We must have a long-term funding solutions for adult social care and the Government must bring these forward in the green paper urgently.”