Social care is 'at breaking point' despite new council tax precept
Financial pressures on councils such as the national living wage are leaving social care “at breaking point” despite the government’s new council tax precept, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.
Analysis by the LGA shows that 143 of England’s 152 social care authorities are considering or have approved introducing the 2% council tax precept by 2016-17, raising a total of £372m. However, almost all this money could be spent on additional costs such as increasing home and residential care providers’ wages in line with the new national living wage, which the LGA estimates will cost at least £330m.
The LGA is calling on the government to help relieve the pressures by bringing forward £700m of funding from the Better Care Fund from the end of the Parliament to 2016-17 in the forthcoming budget.
Cllr Nick Forbes, LGA vice chair, said: “The government expects local authorities to raise council tax by nearly 4% next year, including a 2% precept to pay for under pressure social care services. With no council tax freeze grant next year, a government funding settlement that assumes council tax increases and growing funding pressures, many councils feel they have no choice left but to put up council tax.
“After years of striving to keep council tax as low as possible or frozen, town halls find themselves having no choice but to ask residents to pay more council tax over the next few years to offset some of the spiralling costs of social care in 2016-17. At the same time, they are warning communities that despite council tax rising, the quality and quantity of services on offer could drop, as the income will not be enough to offset the full impact of further funding reductions next year and with the national living wage bringing a significant further cost pressure from April.
“Councils will continue to do all they can to maintain the services that older and vulnerable people rely on but services supporting the elderly and disabled are at breaking point. It cannot be left to council taxpayers alone to try and fix them.”
A fifth of public employers have said they will have to cut jobs to accommodate the living wage. The Better Care Fund itself has been heavily criticised, with councils wanting to quit after it was redesigned in 2014 to direct more funding towards the NHS.
Vicky McDermott, chair of the Care and Support Alliance, which represents more than 75 national charities including Age UK, Care England and Scope, said: “Councils have been placed into a difficult position affecting people’s lives. For many people in the social care system, they will only see their lives get worse, not better. In order to alleviate a degree of suffering, the government should bring forward the money earmarked to the Better Care Fund in the Budget.
“The government continues to ask local councils to achieve the impossible while they ration central government funds for adult social care.
“What we are now seeing is that the overwhelming majority of local councils have accepted that doing nothing is not an option. With the Government refusing to invest the additional monies into the Better Care Fund until 2017-18, councils have quickly recognised that the only new money available to them to pay for social care costs is through the introduction of the precept.”
Ray James, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said councils are working hard to protect the quantity and quality of services for older and disabled people, but directors of adult social services are clear: “many services are at great risk over the next two years due to increasing demand, the welcome announcement of the national living wage and the need to find further savings”.
James added: “While by no means a complete solution, bringing forward the new funding currently planned for the end of this Parliament would go some way to alleviating this immediate pressure.”
James warned after the last Spending Review that the extra government funding would not be enough to meet the increased costs of social care.
Last week, PSE reported that a new Local Government Information Unit survey revealed that councils are warning they will have to cut frontline services, dip into reserves and increase charges despite the government’s promise of greater financial control.