Ex-minister admits social care precept will leave poorer councils worse off
The new social care precept will benefit richer councils more than poorer ones, a former government minister admitted in a House of Lords question session.
Viscount Younger of Leckie told the House of Lords that 144 out of 152 local councils introduced the precept, which is an optional 2% increase in council tax aimed specifically at social care, raising £381.8m in this year and £2bn by 2020.
Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Barker pointed out that the precept favours richer authorities, who have more higher-value properties in their area, and asked if the government would increase the Better Care fund to offset the effect on poorer areas.
Viscount Younger, the former parliamentary under-secretary of state for Business, Innovation and Skills, replied: “My Lords, the government recognise that the local government settlement is challenging.
“Consistent with our approach to give local authorities more control over their own destiny, we are giving important new flexibilities which reflect concerns that councils have shared with us. We recognise that some councils with a low council tax base in the poorer communities will not benefit as much.”
He said that the government would not bring forward the £1.5bn Better Care fund from 2020, a position the LGA has repeatedly called for to mitigate the crisis in social care.
However, he said that the fund meant that the average spending power for each house is 23% higher in the most deprived 10% of authorities than the least deprived.
Baroness Barker warned that a lack of support for social care would lead to greater pressures on the NHS, and Labour’s Baroness Armstrong asked Viscount Younger: “We have incredibly unequal and unfair distribution across the country. Will he commit to ensuring that the government address this issue urgently so that vulnerable people are not put at risk by this global policy that does not address separate need, particularly in the north-east?”
Viscount Younger insisted that the government’s approach of devolving local council funding and promoting independent living was the right one.
However, local government leaders recently told the Public Accounts Committee that national funding cuts will make it harder to introduce personal social care budgets. Viscount Younger suggested further cuts might be due, saying: “Further savings can be made when councils account for one-quarter of all public spending. There is much that can be done that is appropriate in terms of merging services.”
(Image c. Joe Giddens)