The absence of any reference to social care or the NHS in the Autumn Statement reminds me of comedian Alexei Sayle’s story about getting a Christmas present consisting of an empty shoe box and being told by his parents that it was an Action Man deserter.
The local government financial settlement adds little Christmas cheer for an increasingly beleaguered social care sector. The Prime Minister has committed the government to securing sustainable long term care funding for social care but, if the settlement is any guide, not yet.
The pressures require no elaboration to a local government audience. They are now so great that anything is better than nothing. The new social care support grant is not new money to local government and is for one year only. An extra 1 per cent on the precept alongside this will barely dent the funding gap next year and will raise the least in the places that need the most. Frontloading the ‘improved’ Better Care Fund money would have much greater impact.
The precept and the new support grant adds to the already messy mix of funding streams and makes it even harder for the public to understand how local social care is funded. It is a peculiar version of localism that gives councils the freedom to raise council tax for this essential service but not for others.
That statutory responsibility for social care sits with local government has offered governments of all political persuasions convenient political cover behind which to duck the difficult choices about how to fund decent services that more of us are going to need. The Government cites different levels of delayed discharges from hospital to support its argument that some councils are managing the pressures better than others, overlooking the evidence that good practice and effective working relationships across the whole system are far more important than individual council performance. In any case, even the best-performing councils are struggling now. Funding social care is a national problem that requires a national solution. Passing it to local authorities to solve is not devolution of responsibility but abdication from it.
Richard Humphries, assistant director, policy, The King’s Fund