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Learning disability spend: Understanding the ‘unknown’

Nick Clarke Nick Clarke

Funding adult social care has been the biggest challenge facing the majority of local authorities for several years.

While elderly and children’s social care has tended to dominate the headlines, for many councils, the overall cost of providing services to people with learning disabilities has overtaken that of elderly care. This trend is set to continue.

The good news is, with better demand forecasting resulting in more targeted transformation, this cost increase for learning disability services can start to be reduced over the next five years.

Funding learning disability is a key challenge

Total adult social care spend has increased by £835 million net over the last four years (see Chart 1). Historically, learning disability spend made up around 30% of all adult social care spend. Over the last four years this has nearly doubled to 59% (£490 million).

Chart 1 year on year increase in learning disability and total adult social care spend

Source: CIPFA Finance and General Actuals Statistics 2014-15 to 2017-18

We have found that the reasons are profound and long-term:

  • more individuals with learning disabilities are living longer
  • young people with profound disabilities are more likely to survive during their formative years than 20 years ago.
  • the complexity of needs has increased
  • implementing the outcomes from the Winterbourne inquiryand moving individuals with learning disabilities out of hospital settings

These reasons represent a positive story, but one that many local authorities are poorly equipped from a budget and transformation perspective to deal with in the short and longer term.

The challenge will become more acute over the coming years. As the life expectancy of individuals with learning disabilities increases, there will be a corresponding rise in the number of ageing carers. Where they find themselves physically or mentally unable to continue to support their family member with a learning disability, the required support will need to be provided by the local authority.

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Making the ‘unknown’ known

The reduction in formal care provision due to ageing carers has often been described as the ‘unknown’ demand for learning disability services that can cause annual budgets to be exceeded. In fact, however, much of this demand can be forecast with a relatively high degree of accuracy, allowing local authorities to understand: where demand is coming from; the likely needs profile of these individuals; and the specific services and accommodation requirements to meet future demand.

This level of insight, based on real and accurate data, allows local authorities to produce more comprehensive strategic plans and commissioning for the future – a win for any local authority.

Our new Disability Foresight tool is a rigorous and fully tested set of models that can help local authorities answer the big questions around their current and future demand levels, their spend on learning disability services and how best to sustain it. To discuss how it could help your local authority, please get in touch with Nick Clarke.

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