By Robert Winnett, Political Editor
Many councils have introduced "stealth" increases for services such as daily care, meals on wheels and transport to day centres. The average price of a meal rose from £3.17 last year to £3.44.
The figures were disclosed in a survey which found that almost half of councils are charging more this year than in 2010-11 for home care services, with average prices rising from £13.05 an hour to £13.40. Fees also vary significantly around the country in a "postcode lottery system" in which some councils, such as Surrey, charge more than £21 an hour for home care.
Charities have described the behaviour of councils as a "disgrace that should shame any civilised society".
Approximately 15 per cent of elderly people have lost access to free services altogether. Seven in 10 councils will only help people assessed as being in "substantial" or "critical need" and free assistance is means-tested.
Ministers yesterday criticised councils over the increases and the Government is understood to be considering intervening if above-inflation rises continue.
Grant Shapps, the local government minister, said: "It is unacceptable for councils to be targeting the elderly and vulnerable to boost their bank balances.
"We have been quite clear that if local authorities cut out excessive chief executive pay, share back offices, join forces to procure, and root out wild overspends they can avoid raising charges.
"The public won't stand for the elderly bearing the brunt before senior management have made the necessary sacrifices."
Last year George Osborne, the Chancellor, promised an extra £2 billion for councils to spend on care homes, meals on wheels and help for the elderly and disabled with daily tasks such as washing and dressing. The money is not ring-fenced and much of it is not thought to have been spent on elderly care.
Paul Burstow, the care services minister, said: "A number of local authorities are clearly making decisions that are not in the best interest of their local communities. They need to be challenged: why are you not spending this money on social care? Why are you making these cuts?”
A spokesman for The Alzheimer’s Society said: “Many people with dementia and their carers are being forced into a position where they cannot afford to pay for home care or choose not to due to the extortionate costs in some parts of the country.
“This is a disgrace that should shame any civilised society. Home care services are vital in helping to maintain quality of life for people living with dementia. This survey is a damning indictment showing why the current system to pay for care needs to be reformed.”
Earlier this year, a House of Commons analysis found that more than £1.3 billion had been removed from councils’ annual spending on help for the over-65s since the Coalition came to power, equivalent to a real term cut of 17 per cent. Much of this money is understood to have been recouped by charging the “vulnerable” elderly higher fees for services.
Ministers are preparing to publish a social care White Paper in the spring which will set out reform plans. However, introducing the new system may take many years.
Michelle Mitchell, the charity director of Age UK said: “Many older people are already living on the edge of poverty and any increase in the cost of care is only going to hurt the most vulnerable. The escalating care crisis must be dealt with now, not in 10 years’ time.”
Andrew Dilnot, the economist given the task of finding a new way of funding the social care regime in England, has said the risk of needing care in old age is like a “juggernaut coming at you”. Under the current system, anyone with more than £23,250 in assets faces unlimited costs if they move into a care home. Local authorities are allowed to restrict help to those with the most critical needs.© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2011
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