Autism charity condemns new rules on eligibility for social care

The government has betrayed people with autism by proposing unrealistic thresholds for who should be eligible for help and by enshrining the poorest of care standards in law, say charities.

The National Autistic Society said new criteria for those who should receive social care completely “overlooks” autistic people who would not be recognised as needing support. Many people with autism already struggle to have their condition identified. Fewer than half of English councils have any system in place for diagnosis, and some can be particularly vulnerable to neglect and abuse, but councils would not be obliged to help under the new criteria, says the NAS.

Other groups have also expressed what one chief executive described as “total horror” at the criteria put forward by the Department of Health to be used by councils in England in deciding who should receive social care and support. Charities including Age UK and the Alzheimer’sSociety believe the bar is being set too high, leaving millions vulnerable. A draft of the criteria was released this weekend ahead of Monday’s official launch.

In last week’s spending review the chancellor, George Osborne, hailed the government’s commitment of £3bn to be shared between the NHS and councils to join up health and social care services under the care bill.

National eligibility criteria to get access to adult care and support are being introduced as part of the bill, which is being scrutinised by the House of Lords and will move a step closer to becoming law on Monday. It would mean that local authorities would have a duty of care to people whose needs are deemed to be substantial.

Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said: “The proposals for who qualifies for social care support leave the government’s spending review promise in tatters. The government has been hailing its investment to join up health and social care, asserting it will mean vulnerable people receive the support they need in the first instance, and don’t have to wait until crisis point before the system takes notice and steps in.

“But the proposed criteria betray this ambition and overlook the very real needs of thousands of people across the country with autism. People with the disability often require support with everyday activities like getting washed and dressed, but the draft criteria restrict eligibility to those with a physical or mental impairment, which could mean that those who don’t have a formal diagnosis miss out on support altogether.”

Lever added: “Only 63 out of the 152 local authorities [in England] have a diagnostic pathway in place for adults with autism, so a huge group are at risk. Social care support should be assessed by actual need, not just what’s written on a piece of paper.

“In 21st-century Britain, most people would agree that someone who cannot get out of the house independently is deserving of support. But the proposals are too vague to commit to this.”

George McNamara, head of policy at the Alzheimer’s Society, said that it was a move towards enshrining the low standard in law. “The wholly inadequate levels of care available today reflect the extent of the savage cuts that have left hundreds of thousands of people struggling without any support. To suggest that a national criteria, which aims to maintain this status quo, is a positive step demonstrates a worrying acceptance of the substandard.”

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