Social Care – not quite so generous after all
In the Spending Review, the Chancellor announced with a flourish “a total of £2 billion additional funding for social care to protect the most vulnerable.” But it’s likely that social care services will face cuts over the next four years.
The main reason for this is that, overall, central funding for local government (responsible for providing most social care) will fall from £28.5 billion in 2010-11 to £22.9 billion in 2014-15 – a cut of £5.6 billion. At the same time, the controls on how local authorities spend this money are being relaxed: the government plans to remove “ringfencing” (telling councils what they have to spend the money on) from all revenue grants except schools and public health. In addition, the Department for Communities and Local Government will stop monitoring local area agreement targets. Half the extra funding for social care will be in the Personal Social Services grant, which will be “rolled into local government formula grant.”
Why is this important? Experience has been that social care simply doesn’t have the political weight that other local authority big spenders can rely on, and when its funding is not ringfenced it tends to be eroded. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services is plainly worried about this.
The other billion pounds comes from “additional funding through the NHS budget to support joint working between the NHS and councils.” In other words, this money appears in the list of spending limits for each Department as part of the NHS budget whilst at the same time being presented as an extra resource to help local authorities maintain their social care spending. This is exactly the sort of double-counting that used to enrage Mr Osborne just six months ago. More importantly, the Department of Health has a history of digging its heels in when politicians want it to work with social services departments and there is a strong chance that joint working may take longer than the Chancellor expects.
The background to all this is the fact that the ageing of our population is increasing the demand for social care services and this is about to accelerate. As I noted last month, the Local Government Association says that local authorities’ expenditure on social care will rise from the current level of £14.4 bn a year to £20 bn by 2015. Even before the Spending Review, a survey by care charity Counsel and Care found that a majority of local authorities were cutting their social care budgets, reducing the range of services available or considering higher charges. Of course, the local authorities in the survey may well have been responding to the cuts they expected in the SR; yesterday’s announcements gave them no grounds to change their plans.
Update: Community Care reports the government has confirmed that the extra grant for social care will not be ringfenced.