When he stood up to deliver his Budget, Philip Hammond addressed it to the “strivers, grafters and carers” his party is “proud” to represent. He also pledged to “deliver the public services their families rely on”.
An odd introduction, when nothing in his spending plans followed through with his dedication to carers and care services.
The moment the Chancellor mentioned social care, it was clear the government is no closer to restructuring an ailing system on the brink as a result of slashed council budgets and the ageing population. Hammond used his Budget to push the green paper promised by the government on reforming care and support for older people further into the future, saying merely that it would be published “shortly”.
Announced last November, it was due to come out this summer, and there is still no sign of it. In June, it was pushed to “autumn”, and now yet again Hammond has pushed it into the future. The expectation is now the end of December, which means it could very likely be delayed until “after Christmas” or swallowed up in the frantic work before the winter break.
As well as failing to acknowledge this delay, Hammond announced there would be some “immediate” help for councils struggling to maintain their social care budgets. He announced another £650m of grant funding for English councils for 2019-20, and an additional £45m towards the disabled facilities grant in England in 2018-19, and a further £84m over the next five years for expanding children’s social care services to 20 more councils.
As anyone attempting to use or provide social care services in the age of austerity will tell you, this is completely inadequate. According to the Local Government Association, adult social care services alone face a £1.5bn funding gap by 2019/20, and a £3.5bn gap by 2024/25.
Real-terms spending on adult social care has fallen by 5.8 per cent since 2010, and English councils are expected to cut nearly five per cent of the total budget in 2018/19. This is at the same time as rising demand: the number of people in need of care aged 65 and over increased by 14.3 per cent from 2010-17, and the number of adults with learning disabilities rose by around 20 per cent in 2009-14.
This unsustainable reality shows the need to restructure the social care system, with a new set-up for funding rather than the occasional unsatisfactory injection of a tiny bit of cash, as Hammond has yet again delivered today.
Conservative MPs behind the scenes have been urging ministers not only to hurry with the green paper, but to spend some of the £20bn “birthday present” NHS funding on social care.
After all, focusing proper time and resources to social care would significantly ease the pressure on the health service. For example, Hammond’s announcement of new mental health crisis services focuses on the manifestation of mental health problems – whereas properly fixing social care would bolster prevention and in-community treatment, rather than waiting for the dangerous and costly crisis stage.
Social care is the “Achilles heel”, according to Niall Dickson, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, who called today’s extra funding “clearly inadequate” and “yet another sticking plaster”.
Because of this attitude, there is pessimism among Tory MPs who have long been pushing their ministers to remodel social care. It is feared that when the green paper does finally surface, it will be more platitudes recognising the problem but failing to propose a radical solution – allowing the status quo to limp on.
While any extra money is welcome, Hammond’s meagre offering today will exacerbate those fears. As one Conservative local government source puts it, it’s a “time-buying bung”.