At first sight, the Government’s plans to raise national tax and cap individual costs are a radical breakthrough for social care. For years this complex policy issue has lurked unloved in Whitehall’s long grass, popping up only to be the subject of brief political slanging matches, while the crisis in provision deepens.
Yet the measures announced fall well short of the challenges facing social care. They bring into focus a real threat to the current model of local delivery. The bulk of the new national health and social care levy will go straight to the NHS, addressing the immediate symptoms of long waiting lists rather than the root cause of insufficient community-based care. Amidst general vagueness regarding how the £5.4bn over three years earmarked for social care is to be allocated are signs it will be parcelled out to prop up struggling providers ahead of the next election rather than ensuring a sustainable system long-term.
As we head towards a Spending Review without a guarantee, councils won’t be subjected to further budget cuts, the financial viability of social care in particular – and local government in general – is far from assured.
Councils should be under no illusion about the threat posed to their continued role in social care. If people see the Government taking action, yet their council tax precept rises, who will they blame? The words ‘local government’ have so far been absent from communications around reforms – will councils definitely remain responsible?
The principle of local delivery is far from secure. Arguments for a national care service that echo the universalism of the NHS have an easy political attraction. If poor quality and council delivery continue to be conflated, what is to stop future new funding being routed through new integrated care systems rather than councils?
The local government sector, and the bodies which represent it, need to switch from a stance that welcomes small steps, to one that recognises the existential threat that locally delivered social care now faces. We need a wide coalition of people, including those who draw on social care, the workforce and the wider public to demand principles of high quality, person-centred and community-based care are at the heart of future reforms.
Jessica Studdert is deputy chief executive of New Local