Richard Hawkes ScopeThe government’s reforms to the social care system in the Care Act, introduced today, are “built on sand” without adequate funding for disabled and older people and their carers, a consortium of charities has warned.

The Care & Support Alliance has said that while the Care Act is a bold attempt to reform the system, without more funding, thousands of disabled and older people will continue to be cut out of the care system and denied access to things as basic as getting up, getting dressed and getting out of the house.

Changes introduced by the Care Act include:

National eligibility criteria for accessing social care: previously, councils could set eligibility for support against one of four eligibility bandings (low, moderate, substantial and critical) which reflect different levels of care need. Under the new system the same eligibility threshold will apply across the country and councils cannot restrict eligibility beyond this level. The new national eligibility criteria are intended to be comparable to the old ‘substantial’ eligibility banding

New rights to assessment: Councils must ensure that any adult with an appearance of care and support needs, and any carer with an appearance of support needs, receives an assessment to identify the extent of their need, how this affects their wellbeing and whether they have eligible support needs

New rights to advocacy: councils must arrange independent advocacy support for people if they need help to have their say about their care needs 

New right to a personal budget: councils must provide a personal budget to all individuals who are eligible for care and support. This is a statement of the amount of money need to meet a person’s eligible care needs 

New rights for carers: Carers will be given the same rights as those they care for – the right to an assessment, a care and support plan if they have eligible needs , and a personal budget.

However, the Alliance pointed to research by the LSE which has found that 500,000 older and disabled people who would have got care in 2009 are no longer entitled to it. Also, the Local Government Association (LGA) and Association of Directors of Adult Social Services estimate a £4.3 billion black hole in social care services by the end of the decade.

Not only this, but recent polling commissioned by the CSA revealed that almost 90% of GPs feared that social care services were not providing a sufficient level of care for patients, with 71% believing care services will worsen over the next two to three years.

Additionally, a ComRes poll for the LGA found three-quarters of MPs agree that central government funding for adult social care should be protected in the same way as money for the NHS. And last year, YouGov polling found more investment in care is a priority for the public second only to the NHS.

Funding required

Richard Hawkes (pictured), chair of the Care & Support Alliance and chief executive of Scope, praised the Care Act as a “bold and ambitious” piece of legislation that ends the postcode lottery, giving older and disabled people greater control over their lives, new advocacy rights and new rights for carers.

However, he warned that more funding is needed. “But it [Care Act] will only live up to its promise of a genuinely preventative system that promotes wellbeing if it is properly funded.

“Chronic underfunding of social care has seen dramatic year-on-year rationing of support for older and disabled people and their carers, excluding hundreds of thousands of people from the support they desperately need.

“Equally, while we welcome a national threshold for eligibility, by setting the bar at such a high level, the Government has ensured that the year-on-year rationing that has seen people squeezed out of the system, will continue.

“Ultimately, social care is an election issue and whoever forms the next Government needs to urgently address the crisis in care funding, as well as in the health system. Anything else is simply a false economy and the reforms being implemented from today are built on sand and unable to live up to their promises.”

Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, also welcomed the Care Act’s reforms, but he too voiced concern about funding for it. 

"The new rules about who qualifies for publicly funded care and support should make a huge difference to adults with autism, bringing all areas of England into line for the first time,” he said. “We're also pleased to see that socially isolated adults with autism, as well as those who need prompting to carry out essential tasks like washing and dressing, will now be eligible for support. 

"But for this promising new framework to make a real difference to the lives of adults with autism, local authorities must implement the changes in their area in line with the newly published Autism Act statutory guidance, and the Government must allocate greater funding to social care. Supporting the most vulnerable members of society isn’t only the right thing to do; evidence shows that it also saves local councils and the NHS money by preventing people from reaching crisis point.”