Frail, elderly people 'left to struggle alone'

By Nick Triggle
Health correspondent

image copyrightKeith Brofsky

Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable older people struggle to get by with little or no care because of cuts to care in England, a charity says.

The Age UK review said some people could not even wash, dress or feed themselves and yet were being left to fend for themselves by councils.

And the charity warned that the whole system was close to collapse in some areas with services closing.

It comes after the government said it was looking to solve the problems.

Last week, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt pledged action on social care, which covers care homes and help in the home.

That has prompted a growing expectation that a rescue package will be announced in the Budget in early March.

Care is funded by either councils or individuals themselves - although growing numbers are also relying on family and friends to support them.

The Age UK review looked at existing data and concluded there were nearly 1.2 million people who were not now getting the care they need - a rise of 48% since 2010.

This included:

  • 696,500 who do not get any help, of whom 53,000 have trouble with at least three daily tasks such as washing, dressing and eating
  • 487,400 get help but not enough to cover their needs

The charity said this had been caused by cuts to council budgets which had led to a rationing of services.

Last year, fewer than half of the people who requested help from councils were given it.

Find out the cost of care in your area

As well as reducing the numbers of people they help, councils have also started to squeeze the fees they pay agencies that run care homes and home help services.

A report by market analysts Laing Buission earlier this year that estimated councils were paying £100 less a week than the going rate for a care home place.

The Age UK review said half of councils had seen a care home provider cease trading in their area, while a third had seen a home care agency fold.

Age UK director Caroline Abrahams said: "Our new report makes for frightening reading because it shows just how fragile older people's social care now is.

"We think there is a real risk of collapse in social care in the worst affected areas."

image copyrightSPL

Izzi Seccombe, from the Local Government Association, which represents councils, said the review was "deeply disturbing".

"Genuine new government money is now the only way to protect the services."

Cuts to funding

Councils spent £16bn last year on services for elderly and disabled people. It comes after funding from central government was cut by a third in real terms during the last Parliament.

Councils protected social care by making big cuts elsewhere but still had to reduce the amount they spent on social care by 6%.

Ministers have given councils the ability to ring-fence council tax increases for care services in the coming years and have used NHS money to invest in services, but the LGA predicts by 2020 there will still be a £2.6bn shortfall.

In an interview with the BBC last week, Mr Hunt pledged the government would address the pressures in the social care system.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said it was not all about money, but added ministers were "working to find a long-term, sustainable solution".

Related Topics

More on this story