The rollout of the second phase of the Care Act should be postponed and the £590m earmarked to fund the reforms diverted to help plug the gap in social care funding, the Local Government Association has said.
In a letter to health secretary Jeremy Hunt earlier this month, chair of the association’s community wellbeing board Izzi Seccombe warned it would be “deeply damaging” to press ahead with the reforms, including a cap on care costs, in the face of a funding gap that is increasing by £700m a year.
She said the approach councils had taken to date to manage shrinking budgets – including cross-subsidising social care through cuts to other services – was no longer sustainable.
“In this context we have to think very carefully about all the options to protect social care.
“This means considering postponing new costly initiatives – even those which we fully support – if that is the only way we can secure sufficient funding for mainstream social care services,” she added.
“We therefore reluctantly suggest that the phase two Care Act reforms should be delayed, with the money earmarked for the capped cost system instead put into the social care system itself.”
The Department of Health has earmarked £590m for the implementation of the Care Act in 2016-17, although further modelling is taking place to test this estimate.
Most of the Care Act came into force on 1 April, requiring councils to introduce a range of measures including nationally mandated minimum eligibility requirements and improved support for carers.
However, secondary legislation must be laid before Parliament to formally introduce further elements.
These include a cap on care costs and the introduction of personal budgets for individuals who choose not to have their care organised by the local authority.
These elements are due to become legally enforceable from April next year.
Most authorities will need to invest in IT infrastructure to provide ‘care accounts’ which track residents’ progress towards the care cap, as well as communications with the public and staff training.
In May, LGC reported that DH civil servants were making plans for alternative timetables in anticipation that new government might alter the rollout.
In the letter, Cllr Seccombe, who is also leader of Warwickshire CC, stressed that the LGA supported the legislation and would not want to see it “suspended indefinitely”.
She suggested, however, that a delay would have wider benefits including allowing the government more time to model the potential costs and develop final guidance and regulations.
A delay would also give councils extra time to plan for implementation.
Cllr Seccombe told LGC other services could suffer unless adult social care was fully funded.
“Unless adult social care is fully supported we can’t continue to make the changes that we have done,” she said.
“We have taken on the Care Act, we are pleased to have it, even thought it was not fully funded [for the first phase]. We need to be absolutely sure we can afford this before we go into phase two.”
A spokesman for the DH confirmed Mr Hunt had received the letter and said he would be responding in “due course”.