Theresa May already stands at a crossroads in relation to fulfilling her pledge to bring about a “country that works for everyone”.
As Care England chief executive Martin Green tells LGC, the failure of last week’s autumn statement to recognise the crisis engulfing social care threatens to divide the country with social care providers withdrawing services from areas where people cannot afford to support themselves.
In the same autumn statement, chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed the government would honour its pledge to maintain the ‘triple lock’ offering state pension increases that outstrip price inflation or earnings growth, until at least 2020. Many pensioners prosper as a result of this policy – certainly in comparison with younger wage earners who fall into the ‘just about managing’ category.
However, an increasing proportion of the older generation, like people with disability, are seeing their ability to lead fulfilling lives eroded by care cuts. State generosity has been unfairly targeted towards the demographic group deemed most likely to vote; if you need care or live in a non-favoured area, you lose out. The country is far from working for everyone; it is working for fewer people.
The failure of the autumn statement to recognise the crisis engulfing social care threatens to divide the country
Mr Hammond is not the only minister to have shown ostrich mentality on care funding. Ms May used prime minister’s questions to disingenuously spout the line about “billions of pounds extra [going] into social care through the social care precept and the better care fund”. There was no recognition of increased longevity, rising costs and – in particular – council cuts. And local government minister Marcus Jones had the audacity to explain Wirral MBC’s shortage of care resources by suggesting it wasted money on a council newspaper.
Time is running out for the government to change its approach. The local government finance settlement is expected soon and negotiations on care funding are ongoing. There is still scope to bring forward better care fund resources and increase the social care precept. Both of these measures stop far short of long-term solutions, but they would at least shore up the sector.
Much of Mr Hammond’s largely gimmick-free autumn statement represented a sensible chancellor making the most of a difficult position. He is right to direct scant resources at the infrastructure that can grow his tax base and the homes required to house the workers who can revive the economy.
However, the delineation between investment to facilitate growth and revenue expenditure is not as clear cut as often made out.
As Staffordshire CC finance director Andrew Burns writes for LGC, health and social care investment contributes to a growing economy and enables more people to enter the labour force, rather than care for ageing relatives. Preventative expenditure now also reduces NHS expenditure tomorrow. Economic common sense, compassion and the fairness Ms May is so passionate about all justify investment in social care.