The government should prevent councils from spending their social care budgets on other services by surrounding the funding with a ring fence, an influential cross-party group of MPs has urged.
The commons health committee, chaired by Conservative MP Stephen Dorrell, outlined the controversial proposal in a report on health and care spending this week (18/3).
Mr Dorrell admitted the idea was not likely to find favour in Whitehall. “I harbour no illusions about [the recommendation] being welcome in Richmond House and still less welcome in the Treasury, but I think sometimes you have to stand back and look at the facts.”
Expecting the care system to cope with further cuts would be “even more unrealistic than the politics around the ringfence look likely to be”, he added.
The extra protection was a necessary measure if the integration of health and care services was to be increased, Mr Dorrell said. “If we’re going to have [shared] budgets we think it’s important that an assurance is given that we won’t see resources that were previously given to social care being used within a local authority for some other purpose.”
The ringfence would have to be part of a broader policy which helped councils meet the “core challenge” of social care. “[This] is how you meet rising demand with a budget that isn’t growing in real terms”, Mr Dorrell said.
Meanwhile, a committee of MPs and peers has said ministers should be allowed to force councils and local NHS bodies to pool their budgets.
A report by the joint committee on the draft care and support bill, also published this week, said the secretary of state should have a “power to mandate joint budgets and commissioning” across health, social care and housing, such as when arranging support for frail older people.
Paul Burstow (Lib Dem), chair of the joint committee, said ministers should be given a way to force public bodies to work together. “We need to have a mechanism to break silos open if people don’t choose to get out of them themselves.”
Mr Burstow also warned that councils could face a major rise in legal challenges once the government’s cap on care costs come into place. Authorities could be particularly vulnerable when assessing the 450,000 people who funded their own care. Under the new regime, councils will be expected to assess whether their needs were eligible to “start the clock” on the £72,000 social care cap.
“We think that does give rise to the potential for disputes or legal challenges”, Mr Burstow said. “We’ve made a recommendation that the government should give serious consideration to establishing a more robust, transparent, more independent mechanism for reviewing decisions by local authorities rather than just relying on their complaints mechanism”.