The number of social care needs assessment enquiries rose by 229% in 2021/22 compared to before the pandemic, with the increase in demand for advice outstripping available resources, a State of the Nation report has revealed.
Data showed needs assessments rose to 8,684 last year from 2,641 in 2019/20.
Members of Access Social Care provided advice on 74% more queries in 2021/22 (30,620) compared to 17,630 in 2019/20, while there was an 88% rise in the number that needed specialist legal advice – 339 from 180 cases.
The number of people contacting the charity’s members about problems or concerns about existing social care and support rose by 43% over the period, to 5,023 from 3,506.
Access Social Care is a nationwide charity providing free legal advice for people with social care needs. Its second annual report is based on data collaboration in partnership with charities that include Royal Mencap Society, Age UK, Carers UK and Independent Age.
Pressure on capacity meant helplines were required to take on additional staff and expand opening hours to cope with the growth in demand on their services.
With the use of 74,000 separate data points, the report outlined challenges facing people who need social care and looked at the extent to which advice demand and provision has changed.
The wellbeing of both care users and providers has continued to spiral downwards, it said, because of the widening gaps in support needed.
‘Once again the State of the Nation report has highlighted serious issues within the English social care system, and at what cost? Most local authorities cannot meet the demand for care. This affects all of us,’ said Kari Gerstheimer, Access Social Care chief executive.
‘Whether we are self-funders or in receipt of state funded care, we will all need social care at some point either for ourselves or for a loved one. The government claims to have fixed social care and continues its promises to help ease the cost of living crisis, but the sums don’t add up. Millions of people are feeling the effects of an underfunded system.
‘We want a social care system that is properly financed, readily available and fairly distributed. Currently, vital services are overstretched, and people are going without the necessary social care they so desperately need – something needs to change.’
As part of the government’s reform agenda, it is investing £5.4bn in the sector over a three-year period.
However, Access Social Care said local authorities had been pushed into unsustainable and undignified cost efficiencies.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: ‘The findings in this report provide clear evidence of a system under severe duress. Councils are struggling to discharge their responsibilities to people in need of care and support and are having to adopt explicit prioritisation measures to deal with the overwhelming demands they face.’
She added navigating a complex social care system was ‘a real challenge’.
Access Social Care provides legal advice to disabled people, older people, and their family carers. It works with law firm, including Fieldfisher, Orrick, Baker Mackenzie, Slaughter and May, Shearman and Sterling and barristers.