Councils are being forced to spend billions of pounds of their emergency cash reserves on social care amid a significant funding shortfall, official documents reveal.
Analysis produced by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to accompany the Autumn Budget shows that English councils withdrew £1.4bn from emergency reserves last year.
They are forecast to have to draw down a further £1.7bn by 2020 – significantly more than the £0.9bn the OBR estimated in March.
Experts said relying on reserves to fund social care was “unsustainable” and “a crisis in the making”.
Local authorities face a huge funding shortfall in social care that is set to reach £2.5bn by 2020, according to the King’s Fund charity.
Because they have a legal duty to provide care to those who need it, councils have little choice but to find the cash to fund increasingly in-demand services or else risk breaking the law.
Many are therefore going significantly over their allocated budgets. More than half (53 per cent) of councils expect to overspend on adult social care this year, by an average of £21m.
Two-thirds of authorities that are currently overspending on social care plug the gap by utilising council reserves.
These funds are designed to safeguard councils from an event such as a recession and ensure they have enough resources to maintain services if circumstances change.
However, the funding gap in social care means many are being forced to use the funds to cover day-to-day spending, raising the prospect that they could be plunged into crisis in the face of an economic downturn or financial crisis.
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Councils have seen their government funding cut by around 40 per cent since 2010, including 4.3 per cent in the last year alone.
In 2014, Eric Pickles, then the Communities Secretary, accused town halls of “pleading poverty” and told them to start spending the money set…