Spending on adult social care in England has fallen by 11 per cent per adult in real-terms since 2009-10, with six in seven councils making at least some cuts and one in ten reducing spending by a quarter or more.
Cuts were greater in areas that had previously spent more on adult social care, and where councils had been assessed as having the greatest need of central government funding.
Some of the greatest cuts have been seen in London and metropolitan areas like Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Tyneside.
Researchers discovered significant variations in adult social care spending across England. A tenth of councils spent about £325 per adult in 2015-16, while an identical number spent £445 per adult – a difference of more than a third.
Areas with more people over pension age and higher levels of disability benefit claims and deprivation typically spent more on social care.
But there also appears to be a correlation between higher spending and higher local earnings levels. These variations, however, only account for around 13 per cent of the differences in social care spending.
The figures suggest that some councils prioritise social care funding over spending on other local services, while the opposite is true for other local authorities – revealing the ‘postcode lottery’ in adult social care services.
There are also a number of people who are now contributing towards their own care. Councils raise an average of £63 per adult through fees and charges, but this amount varies widely: one-in-ten councils raise less than £35 per care user, while a one-in-ten raise £95 or more.
Polly Simpson, a research economist at the IFS and an author of the report, said: “The spending cuts analysed in our report have been accompanied by a substantial fall in the number of people receiving social care: down 25% across England, between 2009–10 and 2013–14 alone.
“Cuts have therefore been delivered, in part, by removing care from many people, with those still receiving care presumably those with the highest needs.
“What all this means for the quality of care received, the welfare of those no longer receiving care, and other services like the NHS requires further research to answer.”
David Phillips, an associate director at the IFS and another author of the report, added: “One thing that stands out in these figures are the big differences in spending per adult on social care among councils assessed to have very similar spending needs by the government.
“Whether this means spending needs assessments are inaccurate, or reflects differences in available funding or the priority placed on social care relative to other services or council tax levels, is unclear.
“But it emphasises that the government has got its work cut out in its ‘Fair Funding Review’ of how to measure different councils’ spending needs from 2019 onwards. That debate could get quite fraught.”
Anita Charlesworth, Director of Research and Economics at the Health Foundation, said: “The current model of social care is unsustainable, which puts at risk the quality of life for thousands of older and vulnerable people, and places increasing pressure on the NHS.
“The government has provided a short-term injection of cash which is welcome, but won’t be enough to keep pace with the inevitable pressures that arise from an ageing population.
“The promised Green Paper on the future of social care will have to wrestle with some incredibly tough choices – not least how much better off older people should contribute and whether it is reasonable to use housing assets to fund care.
“What is clear is that a functioning social care system will need extra public funding, and this will need to be properly targeted at those with the greatest need.”