Councillors from across the political spectrum have reacted with scepticism to a government pledge that they will be fully funded to implement social care reforms, warning that wide-ranging changes could “bankrupt” authorities.
The funding commitment was made by Shaun Gallagher, director-general for social care at the Department of Health, at an LGA community wellbeing board meeting on Wednesday. He said councils would be “funded to cover the costs” of a set of care reforms, including a £75,000 cap on care costs and a duty to use new national standards to determine whether individuals were eligible for support.
“The commitment is that the great majority of [the reforms] will be an additional cost to local government and that will be funded to cover its costs”, Mr Gallagher said.
But councillors at the meeting said they were unconvinced by the pledge, with one responding that there was “no way on this planet” that enough money would be available.
Colin Noble (Con), cabinet member for health and adult care at Suffolk CC, said councils with large numbers of residents who paid for their own care were worried about the extra burden of having to carry out assessments all of these individuals.
At present many self-funders have little or no contact with local authorities, but they will need to be assessed by their council in order for their care payments to start counting towards the £75,000 cap.
“If we have to assess everyone we will simply fall over because we don’t have the resource to do that”, Cllr Noble said.
His concerns were echoed by Elaine Atkinson (Con), leader of Poole BC. “In the place I represent, 75% [of care users] are self funders”, she said. “We’re one of the lowest funded unitaries in the country and actually this is going to bankrupt us”.
Mr Gallagher responded by saying: “To be honest, if we were planning to do this without funding local government we would have just said yes when Andrew Dilnot first published his report [recommending a £35,000 care cap].
“Funding is what the whole debate has been about, and as [health secretary Jeremy] Hunt set out that funding will be assured to local government.”
Meanwhile Steve Bedser (Lab), cabinet member for health and wellbeing at Birmingham City Council, warned that some councils might, over the next few years, stop being able to afford care for people whose needs had been assessed as “substantial” and “critical”.
“This year I’ve made it a budget priority that we maintain access to care for people with substantial and critical needs”, he said. “I’m not confident I can maintain that in the next two budgetary cycles. I fear I will be placed in an unpalatable position where I’ll [have to] recommend that in order to balance the budget we move away from substantial and critical.”
Mr Gallagher said he recognised that, alongside the cost of the reforms, councils were under pressure because of rising demand for care services and falling budgets. “I’m not going to pretend that the funding issue isn’t a huge issue”, he said. “We continue to talk with local government colleagues about how we face up to that as we go into the spending review.”
As exclusively reported by LGC this week, the Department of Health has given councils until the end of April to produce evidence and arguments as to why social care should be spared from funding cuts in the 2015-16 spending round.