In the March 2017 Budget, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the Government would publish a Green Paper on social care with a publication date originally stated as ‘Summer 2017’. Skip forward two years, after many delays, to Prime Minster Boris Johnson speaking on the steps of 10 Downing Street in the summer of 2019 famously announcing that ‘we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all’. Two further years on from that statement we finally have sight of the government’s plans.
After four years of waiting, we found that the social care system will receive just £5.4bn over three years but aimed solely at funding new proposals. There are serious questions to answer over the existing funding gap in social care, the quality of care provided and the largely underpaid social care workforce. After three years there is more flexibility proposed about where the funds from the Social Care levy go – however, with the size of the NHS backlog and likely demand for health services, there are fears that getting any additional funding for care will be a serious challenge.
One passage in particular from the social care document sent shivers down spines in town halls up and down the country – ‘We expect demographic and unit cost pressures will be met through council tax, social care precept, and long-term efficiencies’. It is a point SIGOMA make often, but worth repeating again – council tax raises considerably different amounts across the country and in a manner not related to need. If I raise council tax by 1% in Barnsley, that raises a lot less than a 1% increase in a wealthy authority in the south east, due to banding distribution. Within SIGOMA areas, almost half of our properties are Band A – double the rate in the rest of the country. The social care precept makes this worse, further increasing reliance on your local council tax base.
For the document to even mention ‘efficiencies’ is frankly outrageous – after a decade of cuts, which disproportionally hit more deprived councils – where do they think these ‘efficiencies’ remain? It is clear that the Spending Review must provide significant grant funding, related to need, rather than touting that councils have ‘access’ to new funding, which will just be further council tax rises at a time when energy bills are rising and a national insurance tax hike is on the horizon.
Local residents who believe the PM’s words that social care is fixed are going to get a shock on the first of April when their NI increases and so does the council tax to support social care. No, not an April fool but a double whammy on taxpayers and in particular a big hit on those who can least afford it. Meanwhile local councillors will be left with the job of trying to explain it away. Best of luck to us all!
Cllr Sir Stephen Houghton is chair of the Special Interest Group of Metropolitan Local Authorities (SIGOMA)