Lord Porter: We need a big, bold move to put social care on a firm financial footing
With social care accounting for nearly 40% of council budgets, vital services are depending on us and the government getting a long-term funding solution right, says Local Government Association chair Lord Porter
I am sure that many House readers have heard plenty about the Local Government Association’s (LGA) adult social care green paper which we launched in the summer. Sadly, this issue has not been resolved by successive governments and, with people living longer, increases in costs and decreases in funding, the system is at breaking point.
Over recent years, councils have protected adult social care relative to other services to try and stave off the most challenging consequences of the crisis. But the scale of the overall funding picture for local government as a whole means adult social care services still face a £3.5bn funding gap by 2025, just to maintain existing standards of care.
The likely consequences of this are more and more people being unable to get good quality, reliable care and support which enables them to live more fulfilling lives; more providers exiting the market, and greater strain on the care workforce and unpaid family carers.
That’s why the government’s green paper is so important, because it is a chance to build towards a more sustainable future. That’s also why the further delay to it was so frustrating and why the LGA decided to launch its own consultation. It is another example of local government getting on and doing the job.
The response we have had so far has been phenomenal and highlights the importance of starting a national conversation on this difficult issue. We received more than 500 submissions, plus considerable coverage in the media and on social media. I hope the level of debate we’ve had will continue and that our green paper can inform the government’s own green paper, when they decide to publish it.
At the centre of that green paper must be a cast-iron commitment to support people to live the lives they want to lead. And that can only be honoured with a long-term funding solution for adult social care. We are talking about how best to look after our grandparents, parents and children – adults of all ages in our communities who live with a range of disabilities and conditions. These people are an essential part of our communities and make them stronger; the care we offer them must be fully resourced.
For decades, we’ve been wrestling – through successive governments – on how to deal with the rising costs of caring for an ageing population. The moves we’ve heard recently from government have been positive steps in the right direction.
The £240m from central government to support social care teams and reduce pressures on the health service this winter is a positive statement of intent. But they are just steps, incremental and piecemeal, when what we need is a proper long-term solution that allows people to plan services and support for the future with confidence. I hope that Matt Hancock and the Department of Health and Social Care are therefore preparing to build on what has come before, with something more lasting, more future-proof.
Councils know, from their position of providing effective care and support in communities, what is needed to both provide the best care possible and prevent problems from spiralling to a point where someone loses their independence in the first place. That’s why we know that, in addition to significant additional (and genuinely new) investment, what we need is an across-the-board commitment to shifting the centre of gravity; away from the acute sector and the back door of hospitals, and more towards prevention and the steps that can be taken to stop people turning up at the front door in the first place.
With social care accounting for nearly 40% of total council budgets, other vital services are depending on us and the government getting this long-term funding solution for social care right. We’ve seen some positive steps this year, with the move to incorporate social care in the department and the £240m to ease pressures. We now need a big, bold move to ensure we can make sure care is sustainable.
We’ve set out possible options in our green paper – from increasing income tax and increasing national insurance, to establishing a social care premium for over-40s, means-testing benefits and increasing council tax. All of these options at least warrant consideration and there are many ways to provide this funding, but our gaze throughout must remain firmly fixed on the people we serve.
When the government publishes its own green paper, it’s essential that whatever measures are included, we put social care on a firmer financial footing – for councils, the communities we serve and most of all, for the people who depend on that care to live the life they want to live.
Lord Porter of Spalding is a Conservative peer and chair of the Local Government Association