Councils warn government of social care crisis and call for flagship reforms to be delayed

This letter warns that major reforms due next year could force councils to cut back on other vital services and even push some over the financial edge, Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports

Councils across England have written to the health secretary, Steve Barclay, to warn that social care reforms could push some local authorities "over the financial edge" and force others to cutback on "vital council services."

In a letter seen by ITV News, the Local Government Association (LGA) calls for key reforms - such as an £86,000 cap on the costs of care and a new means tested system - to be delayed by six months to urgently ease pressure on councils.

But government sources told ITV news that while they wanted to work constructively with the sector, they did not accept any need to lengthen the timetable - potentially placing ministers on a collision course with councils - including those run by their own party. 

It comes alongside a warning that this winter could be the most challenging for social care in recent times, and new data revealing that the numbers waiting for services has surged to over half a million.

"The serious and precarious nature of our existing adult social care system, and the very real consequences of current pressures on people who draw on care and support, is unquestionable," the letter says.

It adds that much of the immediate challenge "can be traced back to historic under-funding, which continues to this day on a significant level."

The letter has been written on behalf of the LGA by David Fothergill, leader of the Conservative group on Somerset Council and chair of the LGA's community wellbeing group.

It has the backing of many other Conservative council leaders, as well as from all other political parties.

They say the "existing instability" of the adult social care system is "plain to see" with only a small minority of directors of social care services confident they have the resources to deliver their existing statutory duties.

Tory council leader David Fothergill says councils need more time to implement new social care reforms

The letter lists worries being raised about unpaid carers, providers closing down or handing back contracts, and reductions in quality and choice.

The problem of recruiting and retaining care workers is described as a "major issue," as they call on the government to urgently review pay levels.

Mr Fothergill said: "Social care’s lack of capacity to deliver the care that people need has been evidenced time and time again and the government needs to step in.

"If it doesn’t, we can expect one of the most challenging winters in recent times, with knock-on effects that will continue to impact on people and their loved ones." 

It comes after a survey from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Care (ADASS), published this week, found that more than 540,000 people were waiting for assessments, care, Direct Payments, or adult social care reviews, by the end of April.

That represents an increase of 37% in just six months.

'Social care is under crisis,' warns Tory council leader David Fothergill

The NHS confederation said in a recent report that NHS leaders were “sounding the alarm” on social care and called for a “rescue package for the sector."

Meanwhile the dire economic situation means inflation is piling pressure on low pay - as well as eating into the settlements that councils received in the last spending review.

As a result Mr Fothergill argues for delays to a major package of reforms for social care, which will see a new £86,000 cap on care costs brought in for individuals and a more generous means test for local authority financial support.

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An LGA survey of senior councillors who lead on adult social care found that almost all (98%) said they were not convinced there were adequate funds for the reforms - and three quarters said they didn't have enough frontline capacity to deliver them. The vast majority called for delays.

As such the LGA is asking for the deadline to be pushed back from October 2023 until April 2024.

It says it appreciates this is a major change in approach and insists the group hasn't come to this lightly - but says it is a necessary and proportionate delay.

"We strongly believe that a failure to take these steps will significantly weaken an already over-stretched and under-funded system, with more severe consequences for people who draw on social care to live an equal life and the workforce that continues to deliver support to people with dedication and commitment," it concludes.

The letter also urges the government to ensure that the funding remains in place even if the national insurance "health and social care levy" is removed - as is being proposed by Liz Truss.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Our reforms are vital to protect people from unpredictable social care costs, and we are working with local authorities, care providers and other stakeholders – including the Local Government Association – to support their implementation and delivery to the timelines already set out.”

They said that the plans were being trialled in six "trailblazer" local authorities- giving them the chance to learn lessons ahead of the full transition.

“We are already investing an extra £5.4 billion in adult social care over the next three years, ensuring the sector has the money it needs to end spiralling costs, support the workforce and deliver these much-needed reforms.”