The cost of care - Group Leader comment – 14 December 2016

Cllr Marianne Overton

As you may have noted, this is the first weekly bulletin in a few weeks. This is because I was standing in a local parliamentary by-election and as such purdah rules applied.

Now that the election has taken place, and saw a strong showing from independents and smaller party representatives, I am writing to you in regards to the local finance settlement, which we are expecting on Thursday.

Following its shocking omission from the Autumn Statement, we have been mounting pressure on the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to ensure there is adequate investment in adult care. Rumours are rife that this will take the form of an increase in the council tax precept - but LGA figures show this does not come close to addressing the crisis that exists. 

As you will have seen, the LGA has looked at the evidence and estimate that adult care faces a funding gap of at least £2.6 billion by 2020. This includes at least £1.3 billion needed immediately and a further estimated £1.3 billion needed to stabilise social care by the end of the decade.

Leaders across local government, the NHS and provider organisations are united in making the case for adult care. The current amount of funding is clearly not enough and the crisis is now. The shortage of funds has seriously damaging long-term and knock-on effects for individuals, their carers and families but also on the NHS and on wider society.

As you will know, the increasing and urgent pressures of adult care have meant we have had to withdraw further still from other services. Many of us will have seen our leisure services, libraries, economic development, highways and non-statutory services much reduced. I believe that if the government does not adequately address the current crisis, our future economic prosperity and the strength of our communities will be irreversibly undermined. 

A rise in Council Tax could help a little and may be appropriate for local accountability, but is less useful on a large scale. It is often considered a less fair tax, in that it is not a good indicator of disposable income. Worse, areas that need the most often raise the least via this tax as houses may be fewer and more dispersed, or fall into lower tax bands. Thus inequality in access, service provision and opportunities for our residents worsen between council areas.

A small rise in Council tax is both insufficient and short-sighted. Humphries at The King's Fund, said in the Local Government Chronicle that "allowing local authorities to raise council tax would provide some welcome extra funding, but our analysis shows this would raise only a relatively small amount of money and would widen existing inequalities as less affluent areas are able to raise less."

A postcode lottery in the way social care is funded is not helpful and will only compound existing disparity facing many in our rural and poorer communities.

We know that people in rural communities often face greater isolation and less access to services. Back in 2013 the Health Secretary stated that 800,000 people were chronically lonely. This doesn't just effect older people but other 'at risk' groups including young care leavers, refugees and people with mental health issues. Given the ageing population and ongoing cuts since then, one can presume this figure is only increasing. 

Proper care is a key priority for our group and members continue to be strong advocates for correct funding. We need to keep this pressure up over the next two months so that the government can no longer shirk its responsibility to those needing support to live full and rewarding lives. 

We would like some case studies to help make the case and explain the impact of the cuts on services so far and projected over the next few years. I would therefore like to invite you to contribute to this work by sending examples you have to the Group office.

9 February 2017