Social care – so what do we do?

By James Jacobs / @jameswjacobs

Social Care is in crisis. We know this as a certainty. The pressures of not only an ageing population but the ever-increasing consensus that people have individual and acute needs are growing. This means that it’s not just extra staffing that would help, but specialist staffing.

And because there isn’t enough funding, people are having to go into hospitals, putting pressure on an already stretched NHS.

The Government’s answer was initially to ignore the crisis in the Autumn Statement. There was no mention of ‘Social Care’ or ‘NHS’ in any context, which raised many eyebrows. One charity, the mild mannered United Response, summed up the feeling: “…the Chancellor’s failure to mention or even address social care within his fiscal plan is puzzling to put it diplomatically.”

The Government’s post-Autumn Statement response to the understandable dismay of Social Care groups was hurried and ill-conceived to say the least.

Since last year there has been a Social Care Precept. This has been an extra levy that first tier local authorities have been able to add on to council tax. The Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid announced that these councils could raise the Precept from 3% to 6% if they so chose.

But there are many problems with the Social Care Precept. According to analysis by the King’s Fund it was used by 95% of local councils. It raised just £382 million which might sound like a lot but is actually less that 3% of what local councils plan to spend on adult social care. It doesn’t even cover the £612 million estimated cost in the rise of the ‘National Living Wage’ this year.

Frankly, it seems that the Precept is a way of handing blame over to local councils for poor service. Because many of the most deprived areas in the country are Labour ones, it unfairly caricatures the Social Care Crisis to be a failure of Labour-run local authorities rather than a multi-faceted crisis that has developed over more than 20 years of government complaisance.

Because of the way Council Tax is structured we know that the 10 least deprived council areas this year will raise almost two and a half more times as much from the Social Care Precept as the 10 most deprived.

A better – though not wholly adequate even then – solution would be more central government investment in an enhanced Better Care Fund. If the government front-load the money it has already promised – £100 million this year rising to £800 million in 2018/19 that would make a real difference.

And how could this be financed? Through our dear old friend progressive taxation? Maybe so, but also through local business rates. However it’s important to highlight that the Precept, the Better Care Fund and Local Business rates alone will never solve the underlying crisis of funding.

Thinking ‘outside the box’, as a society we need to look on it as a duty to look after older relatives and vulnerable neighbours along with Social Care. Supporting local neighbourhood health watch schemes might be worth looking at.

But there is hope. Take Alan Rhodes, the Leader of Nottinghamshire Council:

“It is time for the major political parties to work together to establish a short term solution to the funding problem which may include emergency funds to get us over this winter as suggested by Jeremy Corbyn and then a cross party commission should be formed to take evidence from stakeholders and work towards the formation of a nationally funded social care system.”

This kind of long term strategic thinking is what we need. A social care system, that, as Rhodes’ envisages, will “remove the unfairness of a postcode lottery and like our NHS ensure that care for the elderly and disabled meets the needs of everyone and is free at the point of use” is something to strive for.

However, until there is a culture change in the way we look at Social Carer we’ll never be able to do any more than provide financial sticking plaster.

Instead of treating Social Care as a political football, we can and should be advocating long-term, cross-party consensus building on the Social Care crisis. The problems of an ageing population aren’t glamorous things to be talking about in an age of Brexit, but not only do older people vote, but it’s a moral obligation we all have as a society to look after the most vulnerable, and our present Government simply isn’t facing up to this.

We wait to see what the Budget in 2017 will bring.

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