More than 160,000 people are "trapped" in debt because they cannot afford to pay for their social care, according to a new study.
Freedom of Information requests submitted by the GMB union to every local authority in Britain with responsibility for social care revealed that almost 1,200 people have been taken to court by local authorities for social care debts.
At least 166,835 people are in arrears on their social care payments, with more than 78,000 having debt management procedures started against them by their authority for non-payment of social care charges, the study showed.
The true figure is likely to be higher as some authorities did not respond, said the GMB.
National officer Sharon Wilde said: "These stark figures show the UK's social care ticking time bomb has now blown a gaping hole in families' finances.
"The fact more than 1,000 people have been taken to court because they're unable to pay for their own care - or that of their loved ones - shows the system just isn't working.
"Meanwhile, our ageing population is creating a huge demand for care staff - but caring is still not seen as a sought-after career.
"The lack of local authority funding often means low pay - and the sector is struggling to recruit and retain the dedicated staff needed to provide the best care to the UK's most vulnerable people.
"We need a clear, coherent strategy for funding social care now and in the future.
"Otherwise the struggle to recruit and retain carers will become even more acute, while tens of thousands of people are plunged into debt trying to pay for the level of support that they need."
A Local Government Association spokesman said: "Councils' first priority is the safety and wellbeing of those they support. But adult social care services face an annual funding gap that will exceed £2 billion by 2020, and these figures illustrate yet another consequence of a system straining under real financial pressure.
"Fundamental changes to the way we fund adult social care are needed if we are to deliver a system that works for everyone in society. All funding options should be up for discussion.
"The Government needs to address the immediate pressures impacting on the system today, and ensure its forthcoming Green Paper will deliver reforms to future-proof the long term sustainability of adult social care."
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