moneyShort-term planning is endemic in social care for adults with learning disabilities and this is costing local authorities and the people themselves dear, a report has found.

The study of senior local authority decision makers by learning disability charity FitzRoy found that 42% of local authorities plan social care for adults with learning disabilities by planning just a single year ahead.

Cost is the overriding consideration when making these decisions, deemed influential by the vast majority (94%) of commissioners. Three quarters (73%) admit that cost is disproportionately influential and 64% say they are often under pressure to cut costs at the expense of good quality service.

The report, A Plan for Life, also reveals that local authorities are ill-prepared for the wellbeing provisions in the Draft Care and Support Bill. FitzRoy is calling on the government to publish guidelines alongside the Act to help local authorities understand and measure wellbeing, and to ensure its consistent application.

Anna Galliford, chief executive of FitzRoy, said: “Adults with learning disabilities and their families need to know that they will be supported to live as independent and fulfilling a life as possible, and appropriately cared for. 

“Care decisions have an almighty impact on an individual’s ability to manage their disability and how they live their life, for the rest of their lives. 

“Local authorities face a huge responsibility to help adults with learning disabilities and their families find the best care and living arrangements for them. This cannot be determined by cost alone; these are lifetime decisions that must be based on whole life planning – looking beyond the current budget cycle.”

Short-termism leads to higher costs

Yet this short-term planning often costs more in the longer-term – 87% of commissioners agreed that short-term planning leads to higher care costs. 

Commissioners also said that short-term planning leads to greater care needs (78% agreed), a higher rate of emergency placements (60% agreed) and failure to secure the right care for adults with learning disabilities first time (57% agreed) – all of which places significant strain on local government resources. 

The vast majority (87%) also believe long-term planning presents the single greatest opportunity to improve the quality of adults with learning disabilities’ lives, with 82% saying that too many of these individuals are currently unable to live happily and independently.

“Short-term planning is illogical and is adding insurmountable pressure on local authorities, who are already struggling to cope with severe budget cuts and increasing demand for their services,” Galliford adds. 

“Short-term planning threatens the whole quality of a person’s life, whether they want to establish new relationships, develop new skills, go to work or be more involved in their local community.

“Long-term planning and measuring wellbeing, however, can help manage demand and reduce the cost burden that is weighing so heavily on local authorities today.”

Promoting wellbeing

Meanwhile, more than a third of local authorities are unaware that the Draft Care and Support Bill creates a legal obligation for them to promote individual wellbeing. Additionally, 25% do not feel prepared to fulfil this duty, and 44% do not have a clear strategy in place to promote wellbeing. 

While 55% do not have a formal means of measuring the quality of life of adults with learning disabilities, three quarters (74%) said a universal measure would improve placement stability and 67% agreed it would reduce long-term costs. 

Galliford adds: “With the introduction of new wellbeing measures, local government has a steep learning curve ahead of it. This could be a great turning point for social care and we are calling on the government to help define wellbeing as clearly as possible, and to help put individuals at the centre of social care decisions.”