If the Learning Disability Coalition's (LDC) new report is to be believed, nearly half of people with learning disabilities who receive social care services have had their support cut or charges for it increased in the past year. Who says the cuts aren't affecting service users?
The LDC's report, Social care in crisis: the need for reform, found that over the past year, 17% of people with learning disabilities reported a reduction in their number of hours of support and 13% had been given less money to spend on their support.
Additionally, 18% had had their service charges increased. And, 2% of people lost their support entirely due to their local authority changing its eligibility criteria. Sadly, the report's findings come as no surprise, although that does not lessen their impact.
For many months now there have been news stories and anecdotal evidence of people with learning disabilities - especially at the milder end of the spectrum - having their services cut back. Now we know the scale, and it is significant. If these results play out nationally - the report encompassed 46% of local authorities, 60 providers and 312 service users, their families and carers - then tens of thousands of people with a learning disability are being affected.
As Anthea Sully, director of the Learning Disability Coalition, said, the report explodes the myth that restrictions on local authority budgets can be contained within efficiency savings - 13% of local authorities have ramped up their eligibility criteria and more are considering such a move. The Government may talk about choice and control for service users, but there is little of either when services are cut or budgets reduced, so that they can't buy as much support.
The Department of Health (DH) has tried to put a positive spin on things, reminding everyone that the majority have not had their services cut. But, to me, that completely misses the point. The most important figure is that 30% have either had their services cut or been given less money to spend on them. These people are being adversely affected by the cuts and should be the focused of concern.
The human cost is huge: while some people with learning disabilities will be able to cope with the cuts and increases in charges, many will not, and their lives will be more difficult, more painful and less fulfilling as a result. Once again, it demonstrates that the White Paper on care and support - still promised for "later this spring", whenever that might be - will be crucial. There are a lot of expectations riding on it, and while the DH says that urgent reform is needed, I suspect it will not go as far as many people want.
There is a feeling among some that the Dilnot recommendations will not be taken up, and that some of the fundamental questions around funding - especially dealing with the increasing numbers of people requiring social care - will not be addressed. If this is the case, and with more cuts to local authority budgets to come this year - and for some years to come, it seems - I suspect that there will be many more reports like this. But more importantly, there will be more people with learning disabilities who are not getting all of the services they need.