Skip to main content Accessibility help

Expenditure Planning in the Personal Social Services: Unit Costs in the 1980s*

  • A. C. Bebbington and A. Kelly

During the 1980s, unit cost inflation more than swallowed up all the increased spending on local authority social services, leaving a 10 per cent net reduction in service volumes. This increase can be only partly explained by increased labour prices and increased client needs resulting from the implementation of community care. Explanations in terms of quality and efficiency changes are explored in relation to individual services, and there appears to be a prima facie case that efficiency reduced during the 1980s.

Variation between local authorities in the costs of apparently similar services rose during the 1980s. An analysis of these variations shows that those authorities which experienced the greatest rise in unit costs also had the greatest reduction in service volumes. Unit cost containment has been greatest where there was grant reduction and a declining local tax base, while volume declined most where there was rate-capping. The rising variation in unit costs has been responsible for the widening gap between standard spending assessments and what local authorities have wanted to spend on personal social services. If these increased variations reflect widening efficiency standards, then reversing this trend will require that social services department managements have both the motivation and capacity to implement unit cost monitoring and control.

Hide All
Audit Commission (1985a), Managing Social Services for the Elderly More Effectively, HMSO, London.
Audit Commission (1985b), Child Care Report, Audit Commission, London.
Audit Commission (1986a), Making a Reality of Community Care, HMSO, London.
Audit Commission (1986b), Managing Social Work More Effectively, HMSO, London.
Audit Commission (1987), The management of London's authorities: preventing the breakdown of services, Audit Commission Occasional Paper 2, London.
Bamett, R. (1986), Local Authority expenditure reactions to losses in grant aid: the case of the metropolitan district councils. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 4, pp. 181–43.
Bebblngton, A. C. and Davies, B. P. (1993), ‘The home-help service in 1985’, Journal of Social Policy, 22: 373–91.
Bebbington, A. C. and Kelly, A. (1992), ‘Trends in unit costs among local authority personal social services departments’, Discussion Paper 799, PSSRU, University of Kent.
Bebbington, A. C. and Miles, J. (1988), ‘A need indicator for in-care services for children’, Discussion Paper 574, PSSRU, University of Kent’.
Bebblngton, A. C. and Miles, J. (1989), ‘The background of children who enter local authority care’, British Journal of Social Work, 19: 349–68.
Bebbington, A. C. and Miles, J. (1990), ‘The supply of foster families for children In care’, British Journal of Social Work 20: 283307.
Bebbington, A. C. and Tong, M. S. (1986), ‘Trends and changes in old people's homes: provision over 20 years’, in Judge, K. and Sinclair, I. (eds.), Residential Care for Elderly People, HMSO, London, pp. 6782.
Central Statistical Office (1991). United Kingdom National Accounts, 1991 edn, HMSO, London.
Cm 1913 (1992) Department of Health Departmental Report 1992 HMSO, London.
Challis, D. and Ferlie, E. (1986), ‘Changing patterns of fieldwork organisation I: the headquarters view’, British Journal of Social Work, 16: 181202.
Challis, D. and Ferlie, E. (1987), ‘Changing patterns of fieldwork organisation II: the team leaders' view’, British Journal of Social Work, 17: 147–68.
Darton, R. and Knapp, M. R. J. (1984), ‘The cost of residential care for the elderly: the effects of dependency, design and social environmentAgeing and Society, 4; 157–83.
Darton, R. and Wright, K. (1992), ‘Residential and nursing homes for elderly people: one sector or two?’ in Laczko, F. and Victor, C. R. (eds.), Social Policy and Elderly People: The Role of Community Care, Avebury Press, Aldershot.
Darton, R. and Wright, K. (1993), ‘Changes In the provision of long-stay care, 1970–1990’, Health & Social Care, 1: 1125.
Davies, B. P., Bebbington, A. C., Charnley, H. et al. (1990), Resources Needs and Outcomes In Community Based Care, Avebury Press, Aldershot.
Evandrou, M., Falkingham, J., Glennester, H. (1990), ‘The personal social services: everyone's poor relation but nobody's baby’, in Hills, J. (ed.). The State of Welfare: The Welfare State in Britain since 1974, Clarendon Press. Oxford.
Felce, D., Taylor, D. and Wright, K. (1992). People with learning disabilities. NHS Management Executive: DHA Project on Epidemlologically Based Needs Assessment.
Gibson, J. G., Watt, P. A. and Smith, P. (1987), Measuring the fiscal pressure on English local authorities under the block grant system. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 5, 157170.
Gray, A., Jenkins, B., Flynn, A. and Rutherford, B. (1991), ‘The management of change in Whitehall: the experience of the FMI’, Public Administration, 69: 4151.
Grundy, E. (1991), ‘Demographic trends and their implications’, in Ebrahim, S. and George, J. (eds.), Health Care of Older Women, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
HM Treasury (1991), The Government's Expenditure Plans 1991–2 to 1993–4: Department of Health and Office of Population Censuses and Surveys Departmental Report, Cm 1513, HMSO, London.
Hoggart, K. and Smith, T. A. (1991), ‘Change in local authority services for the elderly in England. 1979–88Environment and Planning A, 23, pp. 17411757.
House of Commons Health Committee (1991), Third Report on Public Expenditure on Health and Personal Social Services, HMSO, London.
Kelly, A. (1989), ‘An end to incrementalism? The implementation of expenditure restraint in English social services departments’, 1979–86, Journal of Social Policy, 18.
Kelly, A. (1991a), ‘Enterprise culture and the welfare state: restructuring the management of health and social services’, in Burrows, R. (ed.), Deciphering Enterprise Culture, Routledge, London.
Kelly, A. (1991b), ‘The new managerialism in the social services’, Social Work and Social Welfare Yearbook, 1992, pp. 179–93.
Kelly, A. and Bebbington, A. C. (1993), ‘Proceed with caution? The use of official sources of cost information in social service departments’, in Netten, A. and Beecham, J. (eds.), Costing Community Care: Theory and Practice, Ashgate Press, Aldershot.
Knapp, M. R. J. (1979), ‘On the determination of the manpower requirements of old people's homes’, Social Policy and Administration, 13; 219–36.
Knapp, M. R. J. (1987), ‘Wrong numbers’. Social Services Insight, 17 07, pp. 20–3.
Knapp, M. R. J. and Baines, B. (1986), Explaining variations in cost per day and cost per care period for children received Into the care of a local authority. Discussion paper 412, PSSRU, University of Kent.
Niskanen, W. A. (1971), Bureaucracy and Representative Government, Aldine-Atherton. Chicago.
Sheill, A., Pettipher, C., Raynes, N., Wright, K. (1993), ‘A cost function analysis of residential services for adults with a learning difficulty’, Health Economics, 2: 247–56.
Social Services Inspectorate (1988), From Home Help to Home Care, Department of Health, London.
Social Services Inspectorate (1989), Towards a Climate of Confidence: Report of a national inspection of management arrangements for public sector residential care for elderly people, Department of Health, London.
Wagner, G. (1988), Residential Care: A Positive Choice, HMSO, London.
Webb, and Wistow, (1983), ‘Public expenditure and policy implementation: the case of community care’, Public Administration, 61: 2144.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Social Policy
  • ISSN: 0047-2794
  • EISSN: 1469-7823
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-social-policy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed