Latest research on social care and learning disability

More than 160,000 adults with a learning disability received social care support in 2014-15. This support ranged from a few hours of support a week to full 24-hours-a-day support.

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

The social care and support that somebody with a learning disability needs might range from a few hours of support a week to full 24 hours a day support. It could 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

Breakdown of government spending on long-term and short-term support in England, by main support reason (2014-15):

  • Learning disability support (37%) - £5 billion.
  • Physical support (44%) - £6 billion.
  • Memory and cognition support (9%) - £1.3 billion.
  • Mental health support (8%) - £1.1 billion.
  • Sensory support (2%) - £0.2 billion.

Short and long term support for adults

Over 1 million adults in England received short-term or long-term social care support in 2014/15 (HSCIC 2015a)

485,000 adults had been accessing long-term social care support for more than 12 months. For 117,000 or 24% of these adults, a learning disability was the main reason they needed support.

In 2014/15, Councils with Adult Social Services Responsibilities (CASSRs) in England spent £17.0 billion on social care. £13.6 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 (HSCIC 2015b).

Nearly £5 billion was spent on short-term and long-term support for adults with a learning disability in 2014/15.

Of the almost £5 billion that the government spent on support for adults with a learning disability in 2014/15, around 10% was in the form of direct payments (HSCIC 2015a).

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 (Arksey and Baxter 2012).

Accessing 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 ( 2015).

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 (Fernandez et al. 2015).

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 (Fernandez et al. 2015).

  • Over 160,000 adults with a learning disability received social care support in 2014-15
  • 890,000 adults accessed long-term social care support in 2014-15. 140,000 (16%) said a learning disability was the main reason for needing support
  • 254,000 adults had short-term support designed to maximise their independence in 2014-15. 2,000 (1%) said a learning disability was the main reason for needing support


  • Arksey, H. and Baxter, K. (2012) ‘Exploring the temporal aspects of direct payments,’ British Journal of Social Work, 42: 147-164.
  • Fernandez, J-L., Snell, T. and Marczak, J. (2015) An Assessment of the Impact of the Care Act 2014 Eligibility Regulations. PSSRU Discussion Paper DP2905, University of Kent. Available online (accessed 26/04/16).
  • (2015) Apply for a Needs Assessment by Social Services. Webpage (accessed 26/04/16).
  • HSCIC (2015a) Community Care Statistics: Social Services Activity, England 2014-15. Available online (accessed 26/04/16).
  • HSCIC (2015b) Personal Social Services: Expenditure and Unit Costs England 2014-15, Final Release. Available online (accessed 26/04/16).

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