Learning Disability Today
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Thousands of disabled people unable to pay social care costs

Thousands of people with disabilities and long-term illnesses are now in debt after being unable to pay for social care support, according to new research by the BBC.

The analysis shows that councils have chased more than 60,000 people for unpaid social care support, with councils taking legal action against 330 people between 2021 and 2022.

The spike in cost for food, energy bills and rent is likely to have contributed to this crisis, alongside the rising cost of social care, which has risen by thousands of pounds for some adults, the BBC says.

Record numbers unemployed due to long-term illness or disability

The research comes following news that a record number of people are currently unemployed due to long-term illness or disability.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of people who are economically inactive rose by 565,000 people between 2019 and 2022. This is thought to be largely fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw record numbers of higher-paid individuals leave employment.

However, a report by the Resolution Foundation says that, early retirement aside, “the UK is facing a longer-term, and more widespread, rise in economic inactivity due to long-term sickness”.

“This is part of a wider trend of rising disability and long-term sickness that is not limited to those out of the labour market: the number of working-age people with disabilities increased by 2.3 million between 2013 and 2022, with four-fifths (83 per cent) of this rise among people in employment,” the report states.

With such a huge rise in the unemployment levels of those who are disabled or living with long-term ill-health, it is unsurprising that so many are struggling to pay for social care.

Research shows that the Covid pandemic exacerbated existing health inequalities, and while many may have been able to work before the pandemic, long-term health conditions are now keeping a significant number of people out of work and completely reliant on social care support.

Ombudsman says councils are failing to provide or limiting social care support due to payment concerns

The campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts told the BBC that local authorities are failing to account for all the additional costs disabled people face in maintaining their health and wellbeing, such as accessible transport, running electrical equipment, adapted clothing and special dietary requirements.

However, only people who have savings or assets of less than £23,250, are eligible for council-subsidised care in England. And with the hourly cost of nursing care at home (provided by care agencies) costing, on average, £18-£20 an hour, those will full-time care needs can quickly find themselves in debt, even with subsidies from the government.

These concerns are not new, and in 2018, an ombudsman warned of the sharp rise in complaints he has received about how local authorities in England are charging disabled people for their care and support.

The same theme has continued, and in 2022 in its Annual Review of Adult Social Care, the Ombudsman said it is seeing more cases where councils are failing to provide care, or are limiting care, while using cost as the justification.

In one case, a family went from paying nothing for their elderly mother’s care to more than £3,500 a month after the council changed the way it assessed people’s contributions towards their care because of ‘budgetary pressures’.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “The issues we are investigating are neither new nor surprising, but do indicate a system with a growing disconnect between the care to which people are entitled, and the ability of councils to meet those needs.

“Care assessments, care planning and charging for care have been key features of our cases this year and a common theme is councils failing to provide care, or limiting it, and justifying this because of the cost. We appreciate budgets are becoming increasingly stretched but authorities’ duties under the Care Act remain and we will continue to hold authorities to account for what they should be doing rather than what they can afford to do.”

Campaigner Rick Burgess, from Disabled People Against Cuts, told the BBC that all councils should now update claimants’ assessment to reflect the rising cost of living, and to put in place better support for those struggling with repayments.

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