One of the extraordinary features of the cuts programme has been the fate of social care. At the same time as announcing the deepest cuts in public expenditure since the creation of the welfare state, there have been several pronouncements about extra funding for social care and how any failure to safeguard services for disabled children, adults or older people would be because of failings in local government.
For instance, the 2010 comprehensive spending review declared that there would be "£2bn a year of additional funding by 2014-15 to support social care". However, a closer examination of these figures shows it was merely a statistical manipulation, achieved by closing one small funding stream, restarting it and then publishing the cumulative figure for a five-year period. The truth is very different.
In fact, over the past two-and-a-half years, social care has already experienced a devastating cut of over £4bn per year, about 16%. By 2015, it will have been cut by more than £8bn per year (about 33%). And there is a very simple and powerful reason for this. By 2015, local government in England needs to make an annual real term cut of £16bn (40% of its central funding) and social care makes up 60% of real local government spending. The problems in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be similar.
The severity of the cuts in social care is partly disguised by exaggerating the size of local government. In reality, most of the funding we associate with local government, such as education, is ring-fenced from the worst of the cuts. It is social care which must bear the biggest share of local cuts.
Directors of social services know what is going on, but they feel powerless to resist or to complain. Their professional bodies and the LGA have been muted in their response – even Labour authorities have struggled to expose the depth of the cuts, perhaps fearing that, however unreasonably, they will still get the blame. Central government's success in shifting responsibility for the cuts to local government is mirrored by the Learning Disability Coalition's Protect the Frontline Campaign, which seemed to imply that local government really could cut something else, instead of social care.
Many charities and advocacy organisations do not seem to realise how severe the problem is, and how much worse it is going to get. Partly this is because they are also having to do battle with the government's £22bn cut to benefits (a cut of about 20%). There are so many different cuts hidden within the so called "welfare reforms" that it is a constant effort to keep up with the next attack. It seems almost impossible to identify the cumulative impact of all these measures, although campaigners such as Pat's Petition have been making a noble effort to expose what is really going on.
The Centre for Welfare Reform's latest report A Fair Society? How the Cuts Target Disabled People provides the most significant overview to date, and its results are truly shocking. People needing social care are hit by a double whammy of benefit cuts and social care cuts. Our analysis shows that, while most of us face cuts in services or income equivalent to £467, people in poverty face cuts totalling £2,195 per person, and disabled people face cuts totalling £4,410 per person. Disabled people (including children and older people) with the most severe disabilities, those entitled to social care, will face the biggest cut of all – an average cut of £8,832. This cut is 19 times greater than the cut falling on most other citizens.
The impact of this on real people will be varied and complex, but it will be overwhelmingly negative. All of this makes talk of welfare reform, personalisation or a new social care funding system faintly ludicrous, and the true facts remain unreported. There are a few groups – such as the Campaign for a Fair Society, Hardest Hit, and We Are Spartacus – who do grasp the true extent of the problem. It is time for social care leaders to join and help build an alliance to resist these combined assaults on disability rights.
Simon Duffy is director of the Centre for Welfare Reform