Dan Parton cutWith austerity set to last another five years, and local authorities having to slash millions from their budgets – on top of the millions already cut – increasing concerns over the future of services for people with learning disabilities are well justified.

These are worrying times for those who receive social care services. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) recently said that, in the face of a £1.1 billion local authority budget cut expected in 2015/2016 – following ‘almost unendurable’ cutbacks in the past four years – it will mean that some people will receive fewer hours of vital home care or fewer people will get funding for residential care. 

“What is at stake is the continuing capacity of adult social care to sustain services to those in greatest need,” said ADASS president Ray James. “In virtually all our authorities, the number in need is growing, while the complexity of their needs is increasing.”

This comment is particularly worrying. For some time now, we have been seeing examples  of people with mild to moderate learning disabilities having their social care services cut. While they may only receive a few hours a week, those hours can make the difference between living well independently and struggling – with the detrimental impact that can have on their physical and mental health.

However, it now seems that those with substantial and complex needs might also see some of their services or personal budgets cut. A survey by ADASS found that 50% of directors believe fewer people will get access to services, and 58% directors believe personal budgets will get smaller over the next two years. In addition, directors think that there will be more legal challenges, and 17% think that quality of care will worsen also over this period.

This is hugely concerning. Social care has been chronically underfunded for years – its value neglected by successive governments – and while cutbacks to services have been a quiet scandal in recent years, axing services for those with more substantial needs will result in a much greater furore.  It is also likely to prove a false economy as it will put pressure on budgets in other areas, such as health, and result in people developing even greater social care needs in the longer term.

There are only so many ‘efficiency savings’ that can be made. Given that local authorities have been ‘making’ them for the past five years, you wonder how much fat there is left that can still be trimmed? It seems inevitable that more cuts will have a direct impact on services.

ADASS’ call for ‘sustained and substantial’ additional funding for social care, which has been backed by organisations such as the Care & Support Alliance, is therefore crucial. Additional funding is needed to sustain existing services and develop new ones. While professionals, providers and commissioners have shown their ingenuity in recent years in providing more or the same for less, this can only go so far. 

But it remains to be seen whether the government will listen. Chancellor George Osborne, and others, have pursued the austerity policy with a zeal rarely seen in government, and, now they are in sole power, it is hard to see them deviating from it. For people with learning disabilities, times may well only become more difficult and more worrying.