England's North-South adult social care divide

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Media captionCharities fear the most vulnerable people in society will be affected by cuts

There is a North-South divide in spending on social care in England following the government's Spending Review, BBC research suggests.

The Council Spending: Making it Clear survey looked at planned expenditure of 76% of councils in England.

Adult social care spending will fall by an estimated 4.7% to £3.4bn in the North in 2011/12 and rise by 2.7% to £3.33bn in the South.

But some councils said the figures were "skewed" by grant allocation changes.

Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said "protecting and improving social care services is vital".

The government accepted that reform of the system was needed, he said, adding that an independent commission was currently considering "how we can ensure affordable and sustainable funding for care and support for all adults in England in the future".

A total of 268 out of 353 councils replied to questions about their budgets.

Of the 151 councils in England responsible for social care, 73 responded to the BBC survey. Forty-one of these were in the North and 32 in the South of England.

Overall, social care budgets of the councils surveyed are set to be cut by about 2.6%, from £9.79bn to £9.54bn in the current financial year, compared to 2010/11. Some adult services have been incorporated into housing and leisure plans in some areas.

'Very difficult'

Social care funding for children is also being cut across England, although in the South the cuts are half as deep.

The survey suggests 41 councils in North were reducing child social care funding by an estimated 7.4%, from £1.55bn to £1.43bn; while in in the South councils were cutting funding by an estimated 3.5%, from £1.30bn to £1.25bn.

The research, carried out with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), mapped local authority spending on services following the Spending Review. The review last October cut local authority funding by 7.1%.

Social care is one of the largest costs for councils and last year it came second only to education.

Durham County Council is among those seeing the biggest cuts to social care, with a planned 18.1% reduction in 2011/12.

The Labour-run council, which has to cut £125m from its budget over four years, plans to spend £192.7m on social care this financial year, compared to £235.5m last year.

Savings have been achieved by the closure of seven council care homes for older people and shops selling disability aids.

The council will also review its carers' service and learning disability respite care service.

Nick Whitton, head of commissioning for adult services, said: "We are having to make some very difficult decisions following the Comprehensive Spending Review and unfortunately, all areas of the council's work, including social care services, will be affected in some way."

Spending cuts: Full Data

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Eighty-five councils did not respond to the survey, including large authorities, such as Birmingham and Manchester.

Age UK said it was very concerned by cuts which affected society's "most vulnerable" people.

Elizabeth Feltoe, care services policy adviser, said the cuts had led most councils to revise their eligibility criteria and put greater financial pressure on service providers.

"It's a double whammy because if people are 'lucky enough' to receive services, they could be charged a significant amount of money for them," she said.

She said all services, such as care homes and domestic help, had been "squeezed".

"A slice of care has been taken from every single service so that you are only left with the bare bones," she said.

Ms Feltoe added there was a "huge disparity" in what councils charged people for social care across England.

The government allocated an extra £2bn a year by 2014-15 for social care services as part of its Spending Review.

However, Ms Feltoe said the money was not ring-fenced so it was difficult to trace whether councils had spent the money on care, making the funding issue particularly "complex".

Poole Borough Council, which has no overall control, said it had increased funding on adult social care by about £1m this year to £38.54m.

Jan Thurgood, the council's strategic director, said: "In common with many areas of the South West, Poole is seeing an increase in need for adult social care services both due to increases in the number of older people and the number of adults with complex disabilities.

"In its financial strategy the council has found efficiency savings in order to direct more money to front line care services."

Sandwell Council, in the West Midlands, was also among councils set to increase social care spending in 2011/12, according to the survey.

However, the Labour-controlled council, which will increase spending by 9.3% to £149m, said it was because the government had transferred some functions and funds from the NHS to councils.

CIPFA said the figures were an important early snapshot of budget changes. It said it was satisfied the BBC's survey method and checking process was sound and consistent, although all estimates might be subject to change as councils sought to deliver the best possible services.

Ian Carruthers, CIPFA's policy and technical director, said: "This survey provides the first overview of levels of council expenditure.

"In light of the spending cuts, balancing council budgets has been incredibly tough for finance directors and no individual council service is exempt from the pressure to make cuts.

"Councils are clearly trying to meet the needs of their communities but people will have to get used to receiving less from their local council."

The minister Mr Burstow said: "The Government is putting an extra £2bn into social care by 2014 to encourage the NHS and adult social care to work together and protect the most vulnerable in society.

"Some councils are making changes like sharing back office services, and caring for people in their own homes instead of expensive residential care. By making these types of changes councils can protect frontline services.

"We know reform of the system is needed. That is why we established an independent commission to consider how we can ensure affordable and sustainable funding for care and support for all adults in England into the future.

"The commission will report to us in July and we will set out our plans for further reform in a White Paper later this year."

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