The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said a gulf exists between what the public expects from adult social care and what it delivers, and the service is “progressively failing to deliver for those who need it most”.
Its annual review of social care complaints for 2020-21 – covering both councils and independent care providers across England – showed faults were found in 72% of cases investigated.
This was three percentage points up on the proportion of complaints upheld the previous year and was described as part of “a relentless rise over the last decade in the proportion of cases in which care users and their families have been let down by local services”.
Faults were often not due to one-off errors by busy staff but were “increasingly caused by the measures employed by councils and care providers to mitigate the squeeze on their resources”.
Ombudsman Michael King said: “Viewed through the lens of complaints from the public, and our impartial findings, the adult social care system is progressively failing to deliver for those who need it most.
“Increasingly, it a system where exceptional and sometimes unorthodox measures are being deployed simply to balance the books – a reality we see frequently pleaded in their defence by the councils and care providers we investigate.”
Mr King said public complaints gave providers “free intelligence to spot problems and drive improvement”.
He said the sector overall responded well to the pandemic, and this had intensified existing issues rather than created a new ones.
In 2020-21 the Ombudsman received 2,033 complaints and enquiries about adult social care, of which 270 concerned cases where someone arranged and paid for their own care.
There were 1,642 individual recommendations made to rectify issues found in adult social care investigations, of which 546 concerned measures that would improve services for users in general.
David Fothergill, chair of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “As this report rightfully highlights, coronavirus has exacerbated pre-existing pressures in the social care system, primarily caused due to underfunding.
“It is right that providers continue to work with the ombudsman in its investigations, to make improvements to their services. We also need to apply the lessons learnt from our response to Covid-19 in any future reforms.”
Cllr Fothergill said the Government’s social care funding plan had “some potential promise on charging reform, but has left open many more questions which need answering urgently”.
He urged ministers to use the Spending Review to improve the sector’s finances.