The recent Supreme Court judgement which says that local authorities cannot take their finances into account when assessing people's need for social care is welcome, but Dan Parton believes more fundamental problems remain:
The recent judgement in the KM vs Cambridgeshire County Council case made it clear that "resources are not to be taken into account" - as they currently are in a number of local authorities - when establishing the needs of disabled people.
This is welcome news because it ensures all potential social care service users will now have their needs assessed before any question of the local authority's resources is considered. It also removes an element of practice that contributes to the current postcode lottery. However, the ruling does not necessarily mean that care packages will be provided, whatever their cost.
The ruling only means that local authorities will have to carry out a full assessment of each individual's needs without taking available resources into account. They are not obliged to fund the care packages that are indicated by such assessments. The same judgement did also say that local authorities need to make it clearer to service users, how any proposed package would meet their needs. This could make it easier for people with learning disabilities to challenge the level of package awarded. Again, this is a welcome development. This case further highlights the complexity of the current social care system, and the pressing need for reform. It's hoped that the White Paper on adult social care, apparently coming this month, if not this week, depending on who you listen to - will address some of the labyrinthine social care law and simplify it, in line with the recommendations made by the Law Commission last year. This can only be a good thing, given that social care law has developed into a confusing patchwork of conflicting statutes - the Law Commission's words, not mine - in the past 60-odd years. To get it into one statute should make things a lot clearer for everyone and cut down on the number of disputed cases.
But, of course, the fundamental problem remains - funding. While local authorities can no longer take their resources into account when assessing someone's needs, it does not mean they have any more money to provide services. Local authorities will still have to do more with less, without even starting to consider the increasing demographic pressures that mean ever more people will seek social care services in the coming years. Until the funding crisis is resolved - and the White Paper will not address that issue - then the problems in social care will remain, and any other reform will only be able to go so far, in addressing them.