Now we know that local authorities will be able to raise council tax via the social care precept by 6% over the next two years, alongside a £240million pot of money in a new adult social care support grant. Despite the attempt by the Secretary of State to portray this as a £900million early Christmas giveaway, in reality we have ended up with a short-term shot in the arm that does little to address the long-term problems in social care.
Of course, any additional money for social care - or capacity to raise extra money, as the council tax precept is - is welcome. However, allowing councils to raise 6% over two years is a limited measure that is likely to have little long-term effect on improving the availability or quality of social care services for the people who need them. In particular, given the amount that councils can raise varies greatly by local authority, this measure won’t raise enough in the areas that need it most. Overall, there is likely to be a funding black hole to the tune of £2.6bn in social care in 2020.
A chink of light in the darkness is that there are increasing calls for support for a cross-party review on social care. In response to the local government settlement, we heard Dr Sarah Wollaston MP (Con), Norman Lamb MP (Lib Dem) and Clive Betts MP (Lab) all calling for cross-party work on this issue. Communities Secretary Sajid Javid himself recognised that he needs the support of other parties. If we are going to fix social care, we need to raise the issue above the day-to-day political fray. A Commission on social care, or some similar type of cross-party work, is something Independent Age has repeatedly called for.
The care and support system is chronically under-resourced, yet we know there are many talented staff delivering the best care they can in a broken system. We also know – because we hear from them every day – that there are many older people and their families struggling to get the care services they need. They are often subject to increases in top-up fees (that is, fees over and above what the Local Authority will pay for care) that are not explained to them, or they cast around in a system trying to get a care package in place while their relative is stuck in a hospital bed, waiting to be discharged. So the human cost of the crisis must not be underestimated. And we should not be surprised that the place people get stuck is the free bit that’s available 24/7. Because having choice and quality outside hospital is harder to attain for many.
The Prime Minister has now promised to deliver a long-term sustainable funding solution on social care. What this means, and how it can be delivered, remains to be seen. In the past we have seen the Barker Commission recommendations shelved, with little evidence of political interest in pursuing them. We at Independent Age want to see cross-party talks begin immediately, to ensure that solutions proposed are meaningful and have Government backing. We want to see better thinking about the relationship between health and social care and the way in which services follow support individual capacity, needs and outcomes. The test of this work is whether it delivers proposals – be they legislative or otherwise – that are implemented and, ultimately, make a difference to the daily lives of the millions of older people who rely on care services every day in this country. The crisis in care has gone on long enough. Failure is no longer an option.