What is social care?

Support can range from a few hours of support a week to full 24-hours-a-day support.

Over 1 million adults in England accessed long-term or short-term social care support in England in 2017/18. For 150,100 of these adults, a learning disability was the main reason they needed support. Of these adults:

  • Approximately 147,920 accessed long-term support
  • Approximately 2,180 completed short-term support designed to maximise their independence (NHS Digital 2018)

Social care can be crucial in helping people with a learning disability to live their life in the way they choose, like anyone else

Support can be many things, including supporting somebody to get up and get dressed, to develop friendships and relationships, or to do meaningful activities and be part of their local community. 

Government spending on support

Government spending on support in England

  • Learning disability support (38%) - £5.5 billion.
  • Physical support (43%) - £6.2 billion.
  • Memory and cognition support (9%) - £1.3 billion.
  • Mental health support (9%) - £1.2 billion.
  • Sensory support (1%) - £0.16 billion.

Short and long term support for adults

Over 1 million adults in England received short-term or long-term social care support in 2017/18

857,770 adults accessed long term support during 2017/18. For 147,920 or 17% of these adults, a learning disability was the main reason they needed support.

Over £5 billion was spent on short-term and long-term support for adults with a learning disability in 2017/18.

Of the £5.5 billion that the government spent on support for adults with a learning disability in 2017/18, around 12% was in the form of direct payments (NHS Digital, 2018).


In 2017/18, overall public spending on adult social care in England was £17.9 billion. £14.5 billion was spent on long-term and short-term care for adults, and the remaining £3.4 billion was spent on other social services, such as assistive equipment and technology (NHS Digital, 2018).

How to access social care?


To access social care, an adult has to first be assessed by their local authority. Health and social care assessments help to reveal what support an adult needs. For example, they might need specialist equipment, residential care, or home care help with things like cleaning and shopping.

Funding determined by eligibility criteria

Whether adults in England can access funded social care is determined by a set of eligibility criteria. In April 2015, following the Care Act 2014, national minimum eligibility criteria were introduced across all councils in England. These criteria replaced the previous Fair Access to Care Services (FACS) guidelines which allowed local authorities to determine minimum eligibility criteria for social care.

Social care eligibility

The new national regulations assess an adult’s eligibility for social care mainly based on their ability to do certain things – such as maintaining personal hygiene and accessing community facilities – without help, pain or significant risk.


Direct payments

Direct payments are cash payments received by service users to purchase care, instead of them directly receiving services. These payments can only be spent on certain services, and cannot be used to purchase residential care. Direct payments can give people more flexibility, choice and control over their life. However, it is important that direct payment recipients have regular contact with local authorities and access to ongoing support and advice.


Research references

Here you'll find full referencing for the Mencap research and statistics pages.

Research references

You might also like

Social care - what we think

Getting the right care and support can be crucial to people with a learning disability living the life they choose
Read more

Hear my voice: social care

We want all people with a learning disability and their family carers to get the social care they need
Read more