In just nine months time, councils need to take a dramatically new approach to delivering care and support services.Local authorities will need to reach out to their whole population, prevent residents from developing care needs, and make sure older people have access to information and advice so they can make informed choices about planning and paying for care. No mean feat.
From April 2016, local authorities in England will need to go even further. In what many commentators believe will still be the most challenging of economic climates, councils will need to put in place new apparatus to assess and review the care needs of people who pay for their own care. Again, by no means an insignificant task.
The question is: ‘can local authorities prepare themselves in time to implement the new legal requirements contained in the Care Act?’ And if they can’t, when might we get an admission from the Government that the challenging timetable to roll out the new reforms might need to undergo a rethink?
Make no mistake: local authorities have been looking at the Care Act 2014, passed by Parliament just a few weeks ago, and alarm bells are ringing. Very loudly. They may not admit it, at least not publicly, but a lot of frantic work is now underway across town halls to estimate the likely costs of the funding reforms.
One major council in the South East I heard speak at a care conference this week estimates the new requirements to undertake assessments with self-funders, plus many of the other new legal obligations, could cost them somewhere around £40 million extra a year. This is when they are facing a £350million funding gap for social care in just five years time.
One question not many people asked at the conference was whether it is worth local authorities going to all this effort (and expense) when all they will be doing by setting up complicated new systems, including care accounts, is putting a cap on catastrophic care costs for the small minority of older people actuaries now believe will benefit from a £72,000 cap.
Last week, we heard the depressing new figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre that the numbers of adults receiving social care services has dropped by one third since 2008-9. Now the Department of Health is consulting on the reforms to adult care and support, it’s all systems go in social services. Admirably they want to plan for the implementation of the Care Act, but are we even confident that as a sector, we are concentrating on the right objective?