Research released by the London School of Economics (LSE) has revealed that since 2005 30,000 people with mental health problems have lost their social care support, following a £90 million shortfall in funding due to cuts to local authority budgets.
Adjusting for socio-demographic change, this would be equivalent to 63,000 fewer people with mental health problems receiving social care since 2005 and local authorities needing to spend £260million to meet their needs. This represents a drop in service users of 48 per cent, compared with 33 per cent of people with a physical disability and 39 per cent of older people.
The research, commissioned by the Care and Support Alliance (CSA), a coalition of 75 charities and organizations, examined the state of social care over a seven-year period (2005/6 – 2012/13). It also found that one in three (30%) local authorities halved the number of people with mental health problems receiving social care support.
As part of the CSA, leading mental health charity Mind is deeply concerned by the results of this research, especially at a time when the Care Bill will be introducing a new high eligibility threshold for social care services next year. This will make it harder for people with mental health problems to get the care they need.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind said: “This is another sign that the government is not looking at the bigger picture in regards to mental health services. In reality it is cheaper to provide preventative services like social care, which help people affected by mental health problems at an earlier stage, in comparison to crisis services that are currently understaffed and overstretched.
“As the Care Bill has its third reading and comes under scrutiny, we want to urge the Government to commit more funding to social care services to ensure that people with mental health problems aren’t disproportionately affected by cuts, and to allow for a more reasonable national eligibility threshold.”
Mental health problems can be debilitating. When someone is very unwell and when someone is very unwell they might not be able to get out of bed for days. They may need support to get washed and dressed, and they may not leave the house for long periods of time. The needs of someone with a mental health condition can be hugely varied, ranging from help with food shopping or getting on a bus, to coping with an overwhelming feeling caused by being in a crowded space. Social workers are lifelines for people with mental health problems who need to access social care services, often at times when they feel like no one else is there for them. Social workers provide important support for people with mental health conditions. They help them source the assistance they need and help build resilience and independence.
Mind and The College of Social Workers also found that from a survey of social workers, three in four (76%) said that there needs to be much more investment in community mental health social work locally. More than three in five (65%) said that the professional challenge to social workers due to the needs of those with mental health problems has become much greater, as, for example, the impacts of cuts to services and benefits take effect.
Annie Hudson, Chief Executive of The College of Social Work said: “In the current tough financial climate, it is vital that mental health services have parity with physical health services and are resourced equitably. It is imperative that professionals work creatively together and that the specialist skills of social workers are fully exploited and deployed.
“These research findings are supported by the practice experiences of College members who have told us that service cuts are generating major challenges to the work of helping people with mental health needs”.
Lee Brookes, 37, from Stockport in Cheshire, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2006 and says that he doesn’t know what he’d have done without social care.
Lee says: “I can come across as very articulate; I have owned and managed two businesses. On surface level, it can seem like I’m OK, but I can often spend three weeks under my bed, hiding from the light. I’ve not washed for long periods of time, not changed my clothes for days, not done the dishes and not done any housework – all because I just can’t. Often people don’t understand that with mental health problems your needs can fluctuate like that.
“My social worker, Helen, understood that but I know that other people don’t. She visited me to talk about the things that I used to enjoy doing but I just didn’t feel well enough to do, like listening to music, reading, or exercising. As I would often feel very manic, she asked me what things I would like to do to calm me down. It was like having someone give your old life back to you.
“My care plan has had far reaching consequences, not just on my mental health but also on my physical health and my social life. I had put on a lot of weight as a side effect from the medication I was taking so part of the plan was for me to go to the gym and go walking every week. I also plotted out time to do housework, get further therapy, and develop my hobbies. Those weekly plans gave me some structure back.
“I’m still being supported by mental health services and there is no way that I’d be as healthy as I am now without social care.”
 Results have been standardised. The standardised figures project what spending should be, and how many people should get services, if the same level of support was offered as in 2005/6. This adjusts for anticipated increases in the number of people using services, population density, standardised mortality ratio, disability-free life expectancy, availability of informal care, take-up of disability benefits, area type.
 A total of 111 College of Social Work mental health social workers took part in a survey to gauge views on how social care services have been affected by the economic downturn.