Focus on cuts – 3: social care
It makes no sense to ringfence health spending while slashing social care
So says Ian Birrell, former speech writer for David Cameron, in the Financial Times. He records that:
”For reasons of short-term political expediency, the coalition government heaped spending cuts on local authorities at more than twice the rate of cuts imposed on Whitehall, ensuring councils took the bulk of the blame for crumbling services”.
He adds that few could argue with Jeremy Corbyn when he accused the government last week of “passing the buck, dodging the blame and handing the bill to those who can least afford it” in its shoddy response to the social care crisis engulfing the country. Summarised highlights from his article follow, emphasis and sub-titles added.
Too little, too late?
After intense pressure, ministers agreed to let local authorities increase council tax at marginally higher rates to fund the soaring costs of caring for old and disabled people. The move will bring in an extra £208m next year but the funding gap will be £2.3bn in 2017, according to the King’s Fund.
Now more than half local authority spending goes on social care for adults and children. Yet as society rapidly ages and medicine advances, the number of old people getting help has fallen more than one quarter since 2010.
The NHS and social care system are entwined on so many levels – note especially the effect on hospitals of people unable to be moved into residential centres or cared for in their homes.
A system created to tackle infant mortality and industrial disease must adapt faster to a world in which most cash goes on old and disabled people with complex, sometimes intractable, conditions.
One solution might be a dedicated tax covering all aspects of care, visible in pay packets and so provoking more realistic debate. But it is not just about money. We should not forget that when the Blair government pumped extra cash into the NHS much of it ended up in the pockets of public servants rather than boosting services.
Too much of the care debate focuses on the middle classes and their desire to protect inheritances
The more fundamental issue is how to help those unable to fend for themselves. Homes relying on people who pay their own way are doing fine, charging almost £1,000 more a month than those who depend on councils to pay bills. Some homes now refuse to take state-funded clients. Social care spending under the coalition rose in richer areas but declined in poorer regions — and this inequality will be intensified by relying on regressive council tax.
Birrell sees, at the heart of this crisis, ‘a question of basic humanity’. The UK is a wealthy nation which has abandoned some of its people most in need of support. Old folks are left in lonely isolation, families failed by the state and people with disabilities trapped without essential help. He concludes, “The artificial divide between health and social care must end. It makes no sense to ringfence health spending while slashing social care”.