Last week the Chancellor set out how the government will spend money across different areas over the next year.

The government pledged £1bn of new money for social care, as well as the possibility of a further £500m through future changes to council funding that the government will consult on. The Chancellor also said that the government remains committed to publishing plans to reform social care- despite their proposals for change and long term funding, being now nearly 2 years overdue.

Good social care can change lives for the better. It can help people to live fulfilled lives in the community. We know that getting good social care support matters to people with a learning disability and their families – it is the number one issue that people contact us about on our helpline. 

In England, local councils provide social care for their area, and they are given a financial settlement from central Government in Westminster to do so, as well as having local sources of income, such as Council Tax and Business Rates. But in recent years government funding for councils has been cut by nearly 60%. This has meant most councils have had to significantly reduce what they spend, and some councils have even gone bankrupt, unable to provide the services they have to by law with the money available to them.

This has all taken place at a time when demand for care is rising sharply. This is because of positive trends, where people are living longer (and older people tend to need more social care); and also because better health care means that more people with a physical or intellectual disability are living longer. 

So councils are struggling to afford to meet everyone’s social care needs, and the care system is under immense pressure. Social care needs a significant and immediate injection of money as well as a longer term plan to make sure that the system does not collapse. The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee recently estimated that £8 billion is needed immediately to address the urgent problems with social care and based on current spending, it is estimated that there will be a UK social care funding gap of £18 billion by 2030/31. [1]

With this in mind, Mencap’s view is that the extra money the Chancellor announced is the bare minimum needed just to keep the social care system from completely falling apart. The Government must ensure enough funding over the long term for the social care system and also look at urgent reform in order to create a fair, effective and sustainable system. 

Because local authorities are so short of cash, this is driving cuts to the support people receive, meaning many people with a learning disability who have a right to care are not having their needs met. About a month ago, ADASS, The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said that by 2020, only 5% of local authorities thought they would be able to meet their legal duties to provide care. 

Mencap is particularly worried about people with a mild and moderate learning disability who are being told that they don’t meet the threshold for qualifying for social care support. Through our helpline we hear many stories of abuse and neglect where a lack of social care is a major factor in the circumstances. 

Many people with a mild learning disability may only need a few hours of support each week to help them with daily tasks such as managing their money or managing food and shopping, so that they can live independently. But without this relatively low level support, we know that this group are particularly vulnerable. Social care needs to be fairly rationed.

A lot of the public discussion  about social care has centred around older people. But 50% of the money spent on social care is spent on working age adults. The social care system needs to be fair, effective and sustainable for working age disabled people too. 

The problem is that social care is not just chronically underfunded it is also undervalued. Too many people do not know what social care is and do not realise that it is not free like the NHS. The Government needs to start by explaining that currently whilst many of us will need social care at some point in our lives, most people do not qualify for state funded care. 

Mencap believes that a fair, effective and sustainable social care system should provide care free at the point of use, so that social care is provided when you need it – just like our national health service. 

Our National Health Service is paid for by all of us, so that everyone can benefit from it when they need it. At Mencap we are calling for a similar system for social care. We think that the best way to fund social care is for us all to contribute. Consultation undertaken with members of the public by parliament’s Health and Social Care Select Committee showed hat many people would be willing to pay a little bit more, for example through taxes, to make sure that social care is free when they and their loved ones need it. At Mencap, we are asking the government to make sure that there is enough funding to make sure that social care is free when people need it, that people with a learning disability are not disadvantaged and that social care is provided equally across the country, no matter where you live, 

We believe that the best way to decide who should get social care is to have a national eligibility criteria and to lower the threshold so that social care is made more readily available for people with mild and moderate social care needs. 

To ensure that the eligibility criteria is always applied fairly we are calling for social care assessments including eligibility assessments to be carried out by a person independent of councils so that social care is always provided on the basis of what a person needs and not denied because of cost.   

Mencap would not support any solution which would create a hierarchy of need which promotes one type of care over another. People with a learning disability often need a range of care such as prompting support or support to carry out leisure activities and other daily living tasks. Unless a wide range of care is provided, there is a risk that people with a learning disability will be left behind.  

So whilst the new money the Chancellor announced last week is an important first step, there is a long way to go to fully address the ongoing crisis in social care, and make sure that people with a learning disability, and their families, get the support they need in years to come. Mencap will continue to campaign to ensure that the needs of people with a learning disability are protected in any future reform of the social care system.

[1] Thorlby, R et al. (2018) What’s the problem with social care and why do we need to do better? London: The Health Foundation.