Scottish councils’ spend on social work to increase by up to £667m by 2020, Accounts Commission estimates

Written by Jenni Davidson on 22 September 2016 in News

An audit of social work in Scotland by the Accounts Commission concludes that current ways of providing care are unsustainable

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Social work costs in Scotland are projected to increase by between £510m and £667 by 2020 if councils and integration joint boards (IJBs) continue to provide care in the same way, according to a new report from the Accounts Commission.

This 16-21 per cent rise in spend is due to a number of factors including an aging population, more early intervention with children and families and increased staff costs due to the introduction of the living wage.

The increase in costs will pose a significant challenge for councils, the commission says, who have seen revenue budgets reduced by 11 per cent in real terms since 2010/11.

In the same period social work spend has gone up by three per cent, so it now accounts for a third of overall council spending.


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Councils spend £3.1bn per year on social care, supporting over 300,000 people, 70 per cent of whom are over 65.

Just over 200,000 staff are employed in the care sector, around one in every 13 people in employment in Scotland.

There are also around 788,000 unpaid carers, whose contribution is estimated to be worth £10.8bn.

Because of the rising costs, the Accounts Commissions concludes that current approaches to providing care are not sustainable.

It recommends that councils and IJBs engage should work more closely with people who use services, carers and service providers to shape the future of social care services.

Douglas Sinclair, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: "A critical test for any civilised society is how it provides for the needs of its most vulnerable people. Councils have coped well in recent years but Scotland is now facing a watershed.

"Increasing pressures on social work and rising expectations of what it should deliver can only intensify. Now is the time for some frank discussions and hard choices.

“It is vital that people who use and provide services - and the wider public - are actively involved in that debate on future provision."

Responding on behalf of COSLA, Councillor Peter Johnston, COSLA’s health and wellbeing spokesperson, said:  “COSLA welcomes the recognition that councils have done a tremendous job of protecting social care spending on, and services for, the vulnerable in our communities through a prolonged period of austerity.  

“However, Audit Scotland are right that we have reached a tipping point where by mitigating and managing cuts is no longer a sustainable approach to the challenges we face.

“Demographic change, increasingly complex demand for care and support, additional legislative requirements and national policy commitments like the Living Wage are impacting on budgets and social care provision right now and drive the cost of social services up by over ½ a billion pounds in the next 4 years.

“It is in this context that COSLA is committed to working with the Scottish Government on the joint political agenda to reform adult social care in the knowledge that we need the right political, financial and operational conditions to enable transformational change.”

Scottish Labour’s communities spokesperson, Alex Rowley, criticised the Scottish Government for failing to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to properly fund services.

He said: “This expert report shows the human cost of the SNP cuts to councils. The fact that many pensioners are not getting the care they need is a clear demonstration of the failure of this SNP Government to fund these vital services.

“The demand on social work services continues to grow whilst the budgets fall putting increasing pressure on staff. The SNP government must reflect on the cuts they are imposing on these services.

“This failure to invest in councils who deliver children’s and social care services rebounds on our NHS, meaning more pressure on our hospitals.

“Ultimately these cuts mean less support for those who need it the most.

“This report says the funding model is unsustainable, the SNP need to wake up that they can’t continue to cut services that the poorest rely on the most.

“They should back Scottish Labour’s plans to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to stop the cuts.”

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