SERVICES for vulnerable children, elderly and disabled people in Hertfordshire are severely at risk through chronic underfunding, according to a recent survey.

The findings also revealed that the increasing demand for social care is outstripping local government's capacity to provide services.

The bleak news comes from the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) and the Local Government Association (LGA) who conducted a survey in January this year.

The findings were launched in a special conference attended by local government leaders from all political parties.

Ms Jane Pitman, executive member for Adult Care Services, said: "We welcome the findings of the survey, which reinforce what we have been saying all along. In December a cross-party lobby of councillors and MPs from Hertfordshire warned that unless the Government reconsidered its proposed financial settlement for the country it would mean our most vulnerable residents losing out.

The survey showed that social services departments were overspending in order to maintain a high standard of service and to keep up with the demand.

Most local authorities were coping by prioritising those in the greatest need, "which sadly means that many who need care will be left to fend for themselves" Ms Pitman said.

"However, Hertfordshire continues to work positively with its partners to provide the best possible services for residents even with limited resources.

"We have pooled resources with the NHS to work together with a budget of over £100 million to provide and develop mental health and learning disability services.

"And we are committed to creating accommodation for 40 people with learning disabilities each year to encourage 'independent living'.

None of this could be achieved without our staff, whose hard work and dedication has recently been recognised by being nominated for a major award for an innovative home care scheme.

Ms Pitman explained that the "gross under-funding" of the social services was a national problem and warned the Government could not ignore the stark findings of the survey carried out by two highly respected local government bodies.

The LGA and the ADSS are forming a national coalition with partners from the health sector to lobby ministers in the coming weeks to ensure money is found for the next financial year and to raise the profile of social services in the forthcoming spending review.