At the start of the month I wrote on this blog expressing my shock and disappointment that Adult Social Care received no additional funding in the Autumn Statement. In the face of a funding crisis in one of our most vital services the government seems to have decided to bury its head in the sand. That’s despite Members of Parliament, local government officials and members of the medical profession, of every political colour, warning them of the catastrophic consequences of doing so.
Fortunately, it looks like the government have realised their mistake and are starting to say something on funding for adult social care. Unfortunately, it looks like all they have to say is offering “solutions” that have been tried and found wanting before.
Cast your mind back to around this time last year, when the then-Chancellor George Osborne announced that councils would be allowed to raise their council tax by up to 2% as a “social care precept”. The government have today announced that for the next two years Councils have the option of levying a larger 3% precept.
Putting side the creative bankruptcy of reheating a policy that was barely a year old to begin with, there more than a few reasons why imposing a greater burden on councils to fund adult social care didn’t work then and won’t work now.
The first is the simple fact that a 3% increase in council tax does not raise anywhere near the amount required to plug funding shortfalls. Last time round an overwhelming majority of local authorities took the maximum possible council tax precept, raising around £383 million nationwide. That sounds like a lot but it barely covered two thirds of the sector’s cost increases for the year. Even with the precept the total shortfall in adult social care funding for 2016-17 alone was estimated at £940 million. There is absolutely no reason to think that allowing councils to raise the precept further will improve this situation.
Neither does this take into account the fact that this additional funding was not distributed equally. The amount of money a local authority can raise from the social care precept is determined by their council tax base. For example, here in Tameside our social care precept raised around £1.4 million, but the same level of increase by Oxfordshire Council saw them bring in £5.9 million in additional funding. Local authorities with lower council tax bases are also likely to have a higher demand for social care services. The result is a system where the areas with the highest need receive the lowest funding. It would be hard to find a more unfair way of doing things.
I said last time I spoke about this that a government’s spending commitments are the best way to tell what their true priorities are. Anybody that wants to know if our social care services will be there for them, their parents or their grandparents should be deeply concerned at the fact that the government is passing the buck for funding to cash-strapped councils while they continue to pile billions into things like corporation tax cuts. The government may say that they want a country that works for everyone, but the ongoing social care debacle shows that they have a very odd way of going about it.