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Spending review will be real test of government's commitment to social care

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The health secretary’s call for people to play a greater role in caring for elderly relatives in his speech to the Local Government Association conference has been broadly welcomed.

Jeremy Hunt wants a “repaired social contract”, where we accept care of the elderly as a part of life – just as we do with looking after children.

Izzi Seccombe (Con), chair of the LGA’s wellbeing board and leader of Warwickshire CC, told LGC that Mr Hunt was right to focus on the role of family members.

“We all of us value family…It’s important though to retain those family bonds, it’s a moral duty,” she said.

Cllr Seccombe admitted that the new emphasis on family members as providers of care could be “difficult” but that “if we value our humanity these are the sorts of decisions we take on…Most of us do it as a selfless act”.

Council chiefs, however, suggest the personal responsibility agenda could be a distraction from the real and pressing issue of underfunding in social care.  

Graeme McDonald, director of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, said many authorities were already encouraging people to take more personal responsibility, in social care and beyond.

“It’s a useful thing to be talking about but it doesn’t change the fact that there is a mismatch between health and social care funding,” he added.

Another section of Mr Hunt’s speech, which highlighted the need for preventative services, may have rung hollow in local government’s ears, following the chancellor’s announcement last month of a £200m in-year cut to public health.

Association of Directors of Adult Social Services president Ray James questioned how Mr Hunt’s emphasis and the budget cut could be reconciled.

He welcomed plans, however for the new carers’ strategy, saying it was “pleasing” to hear a “stronger narrative on social care, not just its interdependences with the NHS”. 

“Like many others I believe the acid test of the government’s support for people needing social care will be the forthcoming spending review,” he said.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director for Age UK, said that while it encouraged everyone to be supportive of older people in their families and communities, families could not do it all.

There was a “need for stronger local support for isolated older people”, she said.

She added that government had a “big responsibility too” and blamed cuts to local authority funding that had been passed on to the third sector – for leaving “many more older people to struggle on alone”.

 “The Budget on July 8 and spending review later this year are great opportunities for the government to demonstrate it is as good as its word when it comes to encouraging more local support for isolated and lonely older people.”

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