Care spending 'cut by fifth in 10 years'

By Nick Triggle
Health correspondent, BBC News

Media caption,
Peggy Brydon: "You cannot sort of stand there and say 'help, help'... You've got to do it yourself."

Spending on care for people aged 65 and over has fallen by a fifth in England over the last 10 years, an analysis by the BBC shows.

The research - based on official data - showed £1,188 was being spent in 2003-4 per person over the age of 65.

By 2013-14 that had fallen to £951 once inflation is taken account - a drop of 20% - prompting experts to warn that vulnerable people were being failed.

Other parts of the UK are also struggling to keep pace with the ageing population.

It comes as the BBC launches its Cost of Care project, which includes an online guide to how care works, and what it costs.

How does the care system for the over 65s work?

Image source, Thinkstock

Care refers to everything from support provided in people's homes to round-the-clock help in care homes.

Unlike the NHS, people have to pay towards these services.

Some get help from their local authorities, but others pay the full cost of their care. One in 10 people face lifetime costs of over £100,000.

About 420,000 people are currently living in care and nursing homes across the UK, while about 1m get help in their own home.

There are another 1.5 million people who rely on friends and family for support.

To work out spending figures that reflected the ageing population and the increasingly complex needs that people have, the BBC compared data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre on funding by councils, and Office for National Statistics population data.

Overall the budget fell by 6% in real terms to £8.85bn during the period, and the over 65s population rose by 17% to 9.3m.

When combined, the data gives spending per head of population over the age of 65.

For the first few years of the 10-year period spending was largely keeping pace with the ageing population, but over the last four years it has been falling more quickly.

The biggest falls were seen in the north-west and Yorkshire and Humber regions.

Janet Morrison, chief executive of the Independent Age charity, said: "These new figures highlight how the most vulnerable and elderly in our society have been affected by cuts to social care.

"Older people who struggle with everyday tasks such as washing, dressing and cooking have been badly hit, as social care services have been withdrawn over time.

"The knock-on effect of this has been to see a greater demand in the NHS. and in pinch points like A&E departments."

'Touch budget settlement'

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, has argued they have done their best to protect social care spending, but a 40% cut to budgets across this Parliament meant "difficult decisions" have had to be made.

BBC Cost of Care project

Care Minister Norman Lamb acknowledged councils have had a "tough budget settlement".

"They have had to play their part in getting the public finances under control," he added.

But he also pointed out that attempts were being made to ensure the NHS placed more emphasis on community services to help the care sector.

In April a £5bn pot - mostly of NHS money - will be set aside to encourage greater joint working.

Figures are compiled differently in the UK, so exact comparisons have not been able to be made. But the data which is available suggests Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are struggling to keep pace with the ageing population.

  • In Scotland the numbers getting council-funded help at home have fallen by 13% since 2005 to just over 50,000. There are also, proportionally, fewer people being funded to stay in care homes.
  • In Wales there are 82,000 people getting council help - a rise of just over 1% since 2006-7, compared to an increase of nearly 12% in the over 65s population.
  • In Northern Ireland the numbers getting help from the state towards care home costs have risen by 3% to just under 10,000 in the past four years, but the number of over 65s has grown by more than 10%. In terms of help at home, the rises have been similar.