The nuclear physicist, Nils Bohr famously said ‘Predicting is very difficult. Especially about the future’. But where’s the fun in not trying?  The most heavily trailed item in this week’s Budget has been more money for social care. The Minister, David Mowat, has even said he would ‘put money’ on social care being included. The Chancellor was playing it cool on the Marr Show yesterday but what might he say on Wednesday? Play our buzzword bingo game to keep your attention on what is generally a stats-heavy speech.

“Ageing population”

If social care funding is included, it’s a safe bet that the words ‘ageing population’ will feature somewhere in the Chancellor’s speech. That’s because a) it’s true that the population is ageing and b) the government would like to put the blame for the enfolding crisis in social care on the country’s demographics not its own inaction.

“Better Care Fund”

The Chancellor is likely to want to say that the government has already put extra money into social care so the Better Care Fund is likely to get a brief mention as a proxy for saying ‘look, we’ve already taken action’. Alternatively, he may choose to bring forward so BCF money as a way of easing current social care pressures (see ‘additional funding’ below)

“Delayed transfers of care/pressure on our hospitals and A&E departments”

Start to worry a bit if this comes up. The government is obsessed with DTOCs and often seems to see social care simply as a means to empty beds in hospitals rather than as a critical, life-enhancing function in its own right. If DTOCs come up in the speech, they’re still seeing social care largely in terms of its drag on NHS performance.

“Efficiency”

This is not a ‘something for nothing’ government. If there is extra cash then it’s likely to come with some strings attached in the form of increased performance and/or efficiency savings. We may find that the CQC has been earmarked to oversee performance.

“Long-term solution”

This is where it starts to get even more interesting. A team in the Cabinet Office is currently looking at funding options for social care, with a possible paper due as early as Spring this year. Will Hammond mention this? If he does, presumably the government is feeling confident it will have something to say fairly soon.

“Ducked the issue”

As in ‘successive governments have ducked the issue of social care funding’. This is another ‘we’re not really to blame’ phrase, trying to establish that the social care crisis is not really the fault of this government but of previous governments who have failed to act. Which is true but only up to a point – cuts to local authority funding kicked in with the 2010 coalition but have continued under the current government.

“This government”

As in ‘This government is going to take bold action when previous governments failed. See ‘Ducked the issue’ above.

“Additional funding”

Triple points if we hear this phrase. You’ll know because you’ll hear the cheering all the way from LGA House in Smith Square. Followed by concerned rustling of paper as ADASS leaders rush to examine the small print in the Budget Book (see ‘efficiency’ above).

“CQC”

See ‘efficiency’ above.

“Precept”

This is another ‘we’ve been listening’ cue. As in ‘the government has already responded by allowing councils to raise extra money through a precept on council tax. However, we now propose to go further…’

“Referendum”

No chance of Hammond mentioning. Surrey council played some role in ensuring that social care funding is in the Budget (assuming it is) by threatening to hold a referendum on raising council tax by 15% to pay for social care. They decided against it, perhaps in part because they would have lost but also because they appear to have had encouragement that the Budget would help out them and other councils. But the Chancellor gives out any reference to this he is probably reading the wrong speech.

“Death Tax”

And no chance of him mentioning this either, even though it’s rumoured to be one of the options being considered by the Cabinet office team. That would be remarkable since the Conservatives infamously poster-bombed Andy Burnham in 2010 when Labour was considering the option.  If you do hear the words ‘death tax’, it’s more likely to be in John McDonnell’s response than Hammond’s initial speech.

Dilnot

Would he, really? It’s hard to find anyone who thinks that the cap on care costs due in 2020 is going to be introduced, though David Mowat gamely repeats the mantra that it remains the government’s policy. If Hammond were to mention it here it would be a huge shock, suggesting that it’s not as dead in the water was we all thought. But it is, surely.

We are going to have to wait until the garden gate, number 8 (March) to find out which if any of these words and phrases the Chancellor uses. Eyes down, everyone, eyes down.

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