A Government pledge to provide free care for the elderly will have a huge impact on already over-stretched social service departments, councillors have warned.
Social care leaders in Birmingham, Solihull, Worcestershire, Shropshire and Staffordshire have signed a letter along with more than 70 others throughout England, who have called on the Government to rethink the controversial Personal Care at Home Bill.
The letter said the plans that are going through Parliament will “add further strain to an existing system already under considerable financial pressure”.
It adds that they are “unclear, unfunded and likely to have a significant impact on existing local services.”
Part of the bill was outlined as a key election pledge by Gordon Brown last week, to provide free care for the elderly, inside their homes, by October 2010.
Councillor Sue Anderson, Birmingham City Council’s Cabinet Member for Adults and Communities, said the proposals had falsely built up aspirations.
The Liberal Democrat councillor for Sheldon added: “We are certainly not against free home care.
“But this proposal came out of the blue. The government are trying to bring it in very quickly, by October 2010, without providing the money that it needs.
“This will introduce an additional cost when we are already struggling to meet the current demands.
“The bill is full of false assumptions. I’m afraid that it needs a delay in its introduction and the numbers have to be looked at again.
“Councils up and down the country are looking at all departments and are trying to make sure that they are more efficient.
“This is an extra pressure. It needs to be planned and well thought out. People’s hopes have also been brought up by this.
“The aspirations have been built up and I fear that people will be left disappointed. We have to be realistic.”
The Cabinet Member for Healthier Communities at Solihull Metropolitan Council Bob Sleigh, said the costs needed to be carefully scrutinised.
Coun Sleigh (Con Bickenhill) said services in Solihull were already under pressure.
He added: “The demographics have changed significantly. We have an ageing population and we are already struggling to cope with demand.
“It’s pleasing in itself that people are living for longer, but we are caring for people with more complex needs.
“Even within this current year we have pressures to meet the demand and this will continue over the next three years.
“We all fundamentally support the idea of providing additional and improved services, but we are already seeking to make substantial savings that is putting services under tremendous strain.
“We want to serve everybody well with dignity and respect and we are already transforming with a change programme that will deliver savings.
“The real issue is how these plans can be afforded and the impact that they will have on the current level of services that we provide.
“The plans need to be scrutinised carefully to ensure that the financial model is deliverable with the resources that are available. If it is not, then the grants may need to be increased to meet the requirements.”
The annual cost of the Bill is estimated to cost £670 million. The bulk of the money (£420 million) will be provided centrally from the Department of Health, but the balance of £250 million will need to be found from efficiency savings from local authorities.
Phil Hope, the Care Services Minister, said: “It is extremely disappointing that supported the principles of the Bill, but quibble, complain and find reasons not to make it happen.”