Research claiming to show wide variations in the extent to which council budget cuts are affecting disabled residentshas found deeper-cutting authorities sometimes protect services better.
According to the study, conducted by thinktank Demos for disability charity Scope, authorities such as Hammersmith & Fulham LBC and Rutland CC, have made “very high” budget cuts, yet score well on researchers’ “coping” scale.
However, it says that others that have actually increased their budgets for disabled people score “badly”.
Report author Claudia Wood said that a common feature of the lowest-scoring authorities was a lack of understanding of local needs, in many cases a reliance on “crude statistics” or “guesstimates”, which risked poorly-planned cuts.
She said the councils that performed best on the coping index were the most committed to co-produced care plans, personalisation, community based plans, and the integration of council and NHS care services.
Ms Wood said it was “a scandal” that authorities with responsibility for social care apparently did not have an accurate grasp of the number and needs of their populations.
“It’s not enough for councils to blame cuts from central government – our research clearly shows that there are best practices at a local level that can make the difference,” she said.
“It’s not just about the amount you have to spend, but how you spend it. Some local authorities are really innovating in an effort to protect disability services – even improve them – with a lot less money.
“Our new coping index goes beyond the top line funding settlement and looks at what this is doing to disability services – such as increasing service charges and restricting eligibility.”
Scope chief executive Richard Hawkes said disabled people felt disproportionately affected by budget cuts.
“We are calling on councils to put disabled people and their families at the centre of decisions that affect their lives,” he said.
“We know that every council has to make cuts and there is no simple way to protect front-line services. However it’s clear that some councils are taking creative steps to attempt to reduce the negative impact of budget cuts on disabled constituents and it’s right to commend those councils for taking the initiative to do so.
“This research also exposes a potential risk in the government’s localism agenda.
“Whilst some councils will always seek to innovate and protect the interests of their constituents, others will choose the easier option.
“The government must make sure that disabled people are protected through its localism agenda otherwise it can no longer claim that those with the broadest shoulders are carrying the greatest burden.”
Association of Directors of Adult Social Services president Peter Hay said the methodology behind the report was “spurious” and masked many creative approaches being taken by councils.
“Rather than helping directors work their way through making imaginative responses to the reduction of public spending the report the whole report is ruined by a relentless focus on sensationalism,” he said.
“They have ranked councils using criteria that are discredited. This distracts from a report which could have been used to work with people with disability, assessing progress made with the emerging features of good services.
“There is nothing new in the claim that care is a broken sector - yet somehow, despite all the challenges there are places that are finding unique ways of making a new offer.
“This includes imaginative integration with community and health services and huge commitments to handing control to citizens of personal budgets.
“If care reform is to work then we need to understand what’s working, and what we need to do more of to make the repairs to a system that urgently needs reform and resources.”
Westminster adult-services lead Daniel Astaire (Con) dismissed the report as “a cheap attempt to gain publicity using fiddled figures”.
“Although we’ve reduced some services, £130 million will still be spent on provision this year,” he said.
“In addition, our latest poll shows that nearly 80% of older people are pleased with the services they get from the council.
“This analysis is fatally flawed in arguing that cash sums are the primary measure of the success of social services. They are not.”
David Rogers (Lib Dem), chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said it was misleading to select a specific charge or service as a barometer of a council’s approach to care.
“For a whole range of reasons what works for one authority may not be possible or appropriate for others,” he said.
“Ranking councils against each other in this way is unhelpful and inappropriate.
“We can be in no doubt there will be some very difficult decisions in the years ahead as councils face up to huge funding cuts in their adult social care budgets.
“The deficits some town halls are having to manage leave them little alternative than to consider restricting eligibility criteria and increasing charges.
“What is needed above all else is reform of how social care is funded.”
The Demos report includes rankings of authorities where the cuts are apparently having the most and least effect on services for disabled residents.
Knowsley MBC, Peterborough City Council, Oxfordshire CC, Rochdale MBC, and West Berkshire Council were said to have protected front-line services the most.
Gateshead MBC, Lambeth LBC, Westminster City Council, City of London Corporation, and South Tyneside MBC, the least.
Click here for an interactive map of the findings.