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Cuts to social care spending in Cambridgeshire are intensifying the “catastrophe” for vulnerable people and families throughout the county, according to a new report from Cambridge Commons.

Cuts of £58 million a year made over the last two years alone are planned to escalate to £128 million a year by 2019, the report reveals. To meet this total new cuts are proposed for the coming year amounting to £73.3 million a year by 2020 of which more than two-thirds are rated by the Council as “having the highest risk level, of red, in their impact on adults and children in need.”

The report has already been influential with the Labour group on the county council and is informing debate among the parties – UKIP, the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems – on the council.  The council must decide its overall spending budget, 70 per cent of which is for social care, at a full council meeting on 16 February.

A major issue is whether or not to levy the additional 2 per cent council tax allowed by the government in light of the government’s failure to fund the additional cost to the council of the new National Minimum Wage. If the additional tax is not raised the further social care savings required by 2020 would increase from £73 million to £92 million a year.

The report, Social Care: the Silent Catastrophe (pdf), focuses on the “human cost” for elderly people and carers, children in care, families in difficulties, children with disabilities, teenagers and many others. It gives telling details of the distress caused. Older people with recognised “critical or substantial care needs” get less of the care they need.  Even incontinence pads are changed less often.  Their home care service has been significantly reduced and 15 minute care visits are taking place. Vulnerable adults with learning difficulties get crisis care only and receive less support to live an independent life and to keep a job.

After a previous year’s cut of one-quarter in the children’s centres’ budget, devastation of the youth service and reduction in social work and other skilled support, the report says: “It is no surprise that the number of children and young people in care has increased by 100 to 570 over the past two years having been stable at 470 over the previous ten”.

Yet the next tranche of proposed cuts will necessitate reducing the number of children in care to 435 while further reducing preventative work and education support for children and young people, including in 2017 a significant reduction in the number of children’s centres across the county.

The report warns that as a result of cuts already made, children and young people in care are now “at greater risk of vulnerability to grooming, exploitation or abuse”.

“Because this catastrophe is taking place behind closed doors,” writes David Plank, author of the report, “it seems invisible to most of our citizens.  But it is savage in its effects, even if the cries of distress cannot be heard out on the streets.”  His report points out that the cuts are being imposed at a time when need in Cambridgeshire is growing, as demand from elderly people and children is on the increase as their numbers grow rapidly.

His report lays the blame for the “catastrophe” squarely with the government’s huge cuts in essential grants to the Cambridgeshire County Council, which is responsible for social care in Cambridge and the county.  It states that similar catastrophes are taking place across the country and draws upon evidence from the National Audit Office to argue that “the government doesn’t know what it is doing”.

The report says that the government’s decision to allow a 2 per cent rise in Council Tax is not a solution to the funding deficit in Cambridgeshire or nationally.  Locally, cuts of at least £22 million a year in 2016 would still be necessary if Council Tax were raised excluding the additional cost of the new National Minimum Wage; nationally, it would raise at most £500 million a year while a further £6.1 billion a year in government grant is to be withdrawn by 2019.

Moreover, Council Tax is a regressive tax which hits poorer people most severely following the last government’s decision to abolish Council Tax Benefit. It is argued that a more progressive tax should be used to meet the large and growing social care funding gap.

Source: Press release from the Cambridge Commons.