Coping with Cuts to Disability Services by Claudia Wood – DEMOS 12/9/11

Coping with Cuts to Disability Services

by Claudia Wood

In October 2010, Demos published Destination Unknown, exploring the impact of the welfare benefit cuts announced in the Spending Review on disabled people. Our analysis of DWP caseloads revealed that, overall, the 3.5 million disabled people currently claiming disability-related benefits would lose about £9.2 billion of financial support by 2015 as a result of the Government’s announced changes.

But after publishing this report, we realised we knew little of what was going on ‘on the ground’ with local services. Disabled people are disproportionately reliant both on welfare benefits and public services – so we were only looking at one half of the coin when it came to the impact on disabled people of the government’s reforms. Because the fact was, in the very same Spending Review that saw such radical reforms to benefits, the government also announced budgetary cuts to local authorities that were truly game changing. A 28 per cent cut over a four year period. Councils were facing tough decisions – sacrifices had to be made, and many were placed in the unenviable position of choosing between refuse collection and library maintenance, play groups and elderly care.

Coping with the Cuts, has therefore attempted to throw light on how the government cuts to local authority budgets are affecting disabled people’s services across the country. We undertook the ambitious task of collating a range of data regarding front line care and support services from every local authority in England and Wales, sending out hundreds of FOI requests to gather the necessary information.

Once we had this to hand, we realised that there were disparities between the level of budgetary cuts local authorities were making to their social care budgets, and the changes being made to the front line of care and support. Some councils had very large care cuts – up to 22 per cent – but were not raising service user charges, or tightening eligibility criteria. They weren’t closing any services either. On the other hand, some councils were increasing care funding by up to 10 per cent, but reported closures, restrictions in eligibility and large increases in charges for things like meals on wheels and respite.

And it is this disparity which is at the heart of today’s report. We found that when it comes to coping with the cuts, it’s not always how much you have, but what you do with it that counts. We combined this front line information and created a ‘coping score’ to demonstrate this.

The results, published today and presented graphically at http://disability-cuts-map.demos.co.uk/, shows that local authorities are each coping with budgetary constraints in very different ways, and some better than others. By looking beyond how much funding councils had, to how this was affecting their front lines, we were able to avoid the very common criticism levelled at councils with big budget cuts. Some councils wielding large cuts are actually doing well in protecting disabled people’s services – this measure acknowledges their hard work.

We were, for the first time, able to compare local authorities based on a set of objective and comparable data and present the information as a national picture. And it is a phenomenally complex picture, one which the government would do well to consider when assessing the impact of its local authority budget cuts.

But the key finding of this report is, perhaps, that there is no ‘magic bullet’ when it comes to coping with the cuts. We report how many local authorities are trying new things – from citizenship-based commissioning, to coproduction with disability user groups, to integrating their health and care systems – to get more for less. Each are at a different stage in the process, some were encountering greater obstacles than others, but it is still early days. Hopefully, local authorities will consider today’s coping score as a baseline – and take it as a challenge to improve and learn from the range of coping strategies already being pioneered across the country.

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