Who cares?

Jeremy Beecham on the impact of local government funding cuts on a range of care services – and ultimately the NHS

When I chaired Newcastle City Council’s Social Services Committee in the 1970s, we trebled the meals on wheel service, doubled home care provision and created one of the first welfare rights services in the country – now helping citizens receive £8million each year. And we also improved residential care.

40 years on, we are seeing a service struggling to cope with the growing needs of an ageing population while the council’s budget – like those of councils up and down the country – has suffered savage cuts. Never in my long political life have I witnessed Conservative councils, and the national local government bodies they lead, being so critical about their own government’s policies and the impact on communities.

The cuts to local authority support have been dramatic – amounting to £6bn in adult social care. Councils face a funding gap of £2bn by 2020, even after the additional funding in last year’s budget. Critically, the cuts include £890million in preventative services – including measures to avoid the need to admit people to hospital, thereby adding to the problems of a radically overstretched NHS.

Even if the funding gap were to be closed, services would be significantly less well funded than in 2010. Then you have to take into account the increasing demand of an ageing population; as well as greater recognition of the increased need to tackle mental health issues with both adults and children. And as the LGA points out, there are also issues with the public health budget. This has also been hit hard with cuts of £200million each year, with plans for a further reduction of £331m.

Such cuts in what is essentially a preventative service are likely to generate more demand for the NHS and social care. In addition to impacting on the lives of those whom the service should be protecting and enhancing. The local government sector is fragile, with the budget spend of county and unitary authorities going on social care having risen from 34 in 2010/11 to 38% this year. Growth in the number of older and younger adults with complex needs is likely to cost an additional £448m this year alone.

Then add to that the fact that the so-called national living wage will cost around £585million – essential as it is if quality staff are to be retained and recruited. Plus the expectation by 2025 that another 350,000 people will need high levels of social care from councils. No wonder, despite the welcome return of public health five years ago from the NHS to local government, there are profound concerns about funding.

Meanwhile, the Early Intervention Grant faces a further cut of £183million by 2020, in addition to the £500m that has been lost since 2013. The Conservative-led LGA protested at the time that this risked under-resourcing councils in delivering early support to those needing it most and warned that councils would be  “less able to provide support for children and families affected by disabilities or existing/potential development delays.” All of this will surely generate greater needs and costs.

Back in Newcastle, where we are losing £280million a year, the number of people receiving home care has fallen from 3000 to 2000. Adults with learning difficulties are getting four hours less support a week. And we have 71 social workers less than in 2014 – a 12% reduction – while there has been an 86% increase in safeguarding alerts.

The government has belatedly announced an increase in NHS funding, albeit less than needed. But it should also be looking at increased funding for social care – not least as it will help reduce the burden on our struggling health service.

Lord Jeremy Beecham is both Shadow Justice Minister in the House of Lords, and a member of the Housing, Communities and Local Government teams. He tweets @JeremyBeecham

Published 4th July 2018

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