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The risks of resistance

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LGC’s briefing on the latest developments in social care

Of the councils that have so far confirmed they are considering increasing the social care precept to 3% this year, many told LGC they were doing so with the downcast, apologetic tone of someone who had been forced into a decision they did not want to make.

The extra funding for social care generated by an extra 1% has been widely acknowledged as woefully inadequate to stave off an intensifying crisis on the front line, where increasingly only the most fragile and infirm are now supported by poorly paid and overworked carers. One London borough leader told LGC that despite the injustice of asking struggling residents to find extra money for social care, an increase in council tax was vital to prevent further increases in charges for support.

Others accused central government of manipulation by leaving councils with no choice but to increase bills in order to deflect public attention from ministers’ unwillingness to find new, urgently needed funds. Darlington BC’s leader Bill Dixon (Lab) did not hold back in his critique of the current situation, accusing the government of using councils as “political footballs” and describing the precept as “robbing the poor to feed the even poorer”.

Today 75 organisations including the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers followed the chairs of the Commons select committees in calling for a cross-party process to tackle the deepening social funding crisis.

But the news today that Theresa May has begun a review of social care delivery and integration with health by seconding officials to the cabinet office suggests Number 10 would rather continue to ignore calls for immediate intervention and focus on long-term system change.

Few would dispute that a new solution for future sustainability is necessary. But without recognition of the need for urgent action, as today’s letter to the prime minister states, “millions of older, ill and disabled people will continue to be badly let down”.

So far only a handful of councils, all with elections looming this year or next, have ruled out any further increases in the care precept in 2017-18.

“It is a hard sell electorally when people are strapped for cash,” said Leicestershire CC’s leader Nick Rushton (Con).

That’s not in doubt, but there are risks attached to not utilising the full range of powers available to the sector.

Choosing to do nothing is still a choice and Blackpool BC’s leader Simon Blackburn (Lab) questioned how the sector can expect to win the argument for more funding if every council has not raised the precept by the maximum amount allowed. 

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes (Lab), on Twitter, voiced concerns councils could be left vulnerable to legal challenges from providers over fees if they fail to demonstrate they have done everything in their power to meet any funding shortfalls.

As LGC’s acting editor Sarah Calkin wrote, the decision over whether to raise the precept by 3% in 2017-18 is “Hobson’s choice with added Catch 22”. 

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