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Extra social care funding welcome, but ‘bare minimum’ to shore up system

Local government leaders have responded to the social care provision announced by Phillip Hammond in the Spring Budget yesterday by saying that though the money will be welcome for struggling services, it still does not come close to plugging the funding gap of a system that is close to collapse.

It has been predicted that adult social care needed around £1.5bn to £2bn worth of fiscal support from the government to be able to fully meet growing demand, but yesterday’s news did not meet the requirements that have been laid out by local government representative bodies and MPs as the chancellor was only able to promise £2bn over the next three years, with half of that amount to be made available in 2017-18.

In addition to these extra funds, Hammond also said that the government was releasing a green paper later this year that would set out the government’s thoughts and plans concerning reform of the social care system, a request that had been voiced by different authorities including the Public Accounts Committee last week.  

Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, said: “The announcement of £2bn for adult social care marks a significant step towards protecting the services caring for the most vulnerable in our communities over the next few years.”

However, he also called for local authorities to be put at the forefront of driving change, saying: “Councils must have full flexibility over how they use this funding to ensure it helps people live independently in their communities and surrounded by their families and friends and to provide support to older people and those with mental health conditions, learning and physical disabilities.

“Adult social care is vital in its own right, as well as easing the pressure on the NHS. Councils want to give people the best possible chance of staying out of hospital and to get them home quickly if a hospital stay is necessary.”

However, there were still concerns raised by the LGA that the new money for the system will not be enough to safeguard the long-term future of adult social care.

“With local government facing an overall funding gap of £5.8 billion by 2020, all councils will need to make continued cutbacks to local services, including social care, over the next few year,” said Lord Porter, added that as helpful as the announcement is, short-term pressures remain and the challenge of finding a long-term solution to the social care crisis is far from over.

Lord Porter also highlighted the green paper announcement was welcome, but stated that it could not be “kicked into the long grass” like other social care reviews and enquiries, and instead required commitment from the government.

“With councils facing further funding pressures and growing demand for support by the end of the decade, this is the last chance we have to get this right,” he said. “For that to happen, local government leaders must play a fundamental part. All options must be on the table and it needs cross-party national support. This is the only way we will find a solution that ensures our future generations enjoy a care system which doesn't just help them out of bed and gets them washed and dressed but ensures they have dignified and fulfilling lives.”

Independent Age, the charity for older people, talked in even more disparaging terms about the amount of money put aside for adult social care in the Budget.

Janet Morrison, CEO of Independent Age, slammed Hammond’s decision, saying: “The government has committed the bare minimum to fund social care.

“While it is of course welcome, no one should be under the illusion that it will do anything more than shore up a crumbling system. It is even more imperative that the government publishes its promised Green Paper to find a long-term solution to the fundamental problems facing social care as our society ages.”

The charity had been pressing both Theresa May and her predecessor David Cameron for a review of social care, and said that the green paper was very welcome news. 

“There is a real opportunity for the government to leave a lasting legacy, beyond the immediate concerns of Brexit, in an area of fundamental and growing importance to us as a society: how we support and care for our older population,” said Morrison.

But she also warned that the green paper should not be used as a “smokescreen for inaction”, continuing: “It must report back its findings and begin implementation by the end of this Parliament. The scope of the review is critical: it must be inclusive, open and urgent, encompassing not just social care funding but also how it links to health and benefits spending on older people.”

Clive Betts, chair of the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee, also reiterated that the government had not gone far enough in backing adult social care: “The chancellor’s commitment of money to adult social care is welcome but the £1bn for 2017-18 falls well short of the £1.5bn the CLG Committee recommended was necessary to plug the gap in funding for the next year and provide adequate relief from the immediate pressures faced by local care services.

“For the following years up to 2020, the government should commit to getting a true picture of what is required by helping the National Audit Office (NAO) determine the level of funding the government will need to find for 2018-19 and 2019-20.”

Betts also said that the government needed to confirm that the money provided was “new money” and not simply coming out of separate existing funds: “From the Budget documents it is not clear this is the case. The announcement of a green paper on social care in the long term is welcome but to provide an effective solution to the challenges for our social care system this should be part of an urgent review, undertaken on a cross-party basis.”

The County Councils Network chairman Cllr Paul Carter, leader of Kent County Council, also said: “We strongly welcome the announcement of an additional £2bn for adult social care.

“This money is a recognition of the immediate social care pressures facing local government and should be distributed fairly.

“It is important to recognise that counties are under the most severe pressure for care services, yet are the lowest funded councils for social care. They have the largest and fastest growing elderly populations and they face additional costs in providing local services in rural locations. Over the long-term, we look forward to working with government on their needs-based review to ensure fairer funding for county areas.

“CCN also welcomes government’s willingness to work with the sector and wider health service to reduce delayed discharges. Government has rightly said this is an indication of pressure on local services. It is important that we recognise the multiple challenges to reducing delayed discharges, particularly in county areas, which are not necessarily a reflection of social care performance.”

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