An in-depth study of social care provision has highlighted a “clear possibility” that local government funding cuts mean vulnerable people are not receiving the help they need and are being put at “increased risk” as a result.

The study, by the sector-led improvement group Towards Excellence in Adult Social Care, is based on a detailed analysis of data submitted by all local authorities.

It has identified a 6.4 per cent fall in the number of people who received a council-funded social care service, from 1,424,000 in 2011-12 to 1,333,000 in 2012-13. This followed a 6.7 per cent fall the previous year.

A report on the findings said the reduction might be explained in part by better use of preventative services. However, it also said it was “most likely that there has been a reduction in front-line publicly funded services for the last two years.”

It said: “In the absence of firm evidence, and in the known context of rising population needs, there is a clear possibility that fewer people are getting the support they need, and may be at increased risk.”

It warned that “risks to people’s wellbeing and health” could not be “adequately evidenced” with the statistics available. “This in itself suggests a possible risk to people who use services or need support,” it said.

The report said the reductions were “taking place against a background of budget pressures, rising population needs related to age and longevity, the growing incidence of long term health conditions, and increased pressure in the NHS to help reduce avoidable hospital admissions and return people home more quickly after a stay in hospital”.

It also said research by Association of Directors of Adult Social Services suggested about 20 authorities had increased charges for care. This may have “deterred more people from having the support they need”, it said.

ADASS president Sandie Keene said: “Adult social care has taken a huge buffeting in the past three years; a buffeting which has impacted significantly on social care budgets as well as the budgets of other services with which we collaborate in order to carry out our tasks.”