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Survey highlights councils' care spending

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Councils overspent their personal social services budgets by an average of £303,000 in 2008-9, with spending on older people being the most acute area, according to the delayed ADASS/LGA adult social services annual survey.

The joint report said the majority of overspending was by counties and metropolitan authorities, with unitaries and London boroughs tending to underspend.

Respondents said net unit costs had risen by an average of 7.4% between 2007-8 and 2008-9. The steepest increases had come in the provision of independent  nursing care for people with disabilities, where costs had risen by up to 16.7%.

A trend in recent annual budget surveys from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and the LGA has been ever-tightening eligibility criteria for care services, however the latest report appears to show a levelling off.

Figures for 2009-10 showed little change in the proportion of councils rationing care under Fair Access to Care Services criteria: One percent still limit care to people assessed as having “critical needs”, while 72% include those with “substantial” needs, and 24% take “moderate needs” as the starting point.

In opposition to care services that residents must be assessed for, the survey indicated councils were spending increasing amounts on social care that can be assessed without a formal assessment, with 2008-9 spending representing a 10% increase on the previous year. Such budgets were expected to rise to an average of £2.236m per authority when final figures for 2009-10 were available.

Of the 130 authorities that responded to the survey, 87% predicted they would face additional costs in the current financial year as a direct result of demographic change. Expectations averaged £1m per authority.

A joint introduction to the survey from ADASS president Richard Jones and LGA group strategic director for adult social care and health Andrew Cozens warned that directors may find the latest survey less useful than its predecessors because of the current economic climate and approaching Spending Review.

“Until recently, the annual survey has been regarded as an important and authoritative source of evidence on total social care spend across the country in making future spending decisions,” they said.

“However in this time of financial uncertainty and significant change, the historical perspective coming from the budget survey is not as useful as it has been in more settled times.”

They predicted a shift towards local decisions in the context of corporate policies and savings requirements that would make national trends less relevant.

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