This was the week that the social care crisis finally acquired the prominence it deserves. After being lambasted by Jeremy Corbyn at yesterday’s PMQs, Theresa May promised a “long-term solution”. But today’s announcement by Sajid Javid did little to advance that aim. Though the Communities Secretary boasted of £900m extra for social care, the reality undermines the rhetoric.
Local authorities, as expected, will now be permitted to raise council tax by 3 per cent next year and the year after (rather than by 2 per cent). But since the maximum increase is still capped at 6 per cent by 2019-20, the money has merely been frontloaded, rather than increased. As Labour and others have noted, it is also a regressive response that will widen geographical disparities. Wealthy areas will raise far more by increasing council tax than poorer ones.
Javid also announced a new £240m social care “support fund”. But even this is not the bounty it appears. The money is drawn from the New Homes Bonus, which is intended to compensate councils for housebuilding. The government is robbing housing Paul to pay social care Peter. Even were the £900m new money it would remain inadequate. The social care funding gap is forecast to be £2.6bn by 2020 and £4.6bn was cut in the last parliament.
“Winter is already here and there is not a penny more for the 1.2 million elderly people who are living without the care they need,” said the shadow communities secretary Teresa Pearce. “What is clear is that the government have no new ideas on how to fund social care, and are just passing the buck to overstretched local authorities and council tax payers.”
But it is not only Labour that is unimpressed. Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative chair of the health select committee, said: “I’m not convinced that the local government settlement is new money, it brings some of it forward but doesn’t grasp the seriousness of the shortfall. Rising unmet need for social care will not be resolved without genuine cross-party working to find a long-term solution to funding.”
Today, however, Javid merely promised a new “policy framework” on integrating health and social care (as experts have long urged). Ministers show no inclination to raise the revenue required, either through tax increases or through cuts elsewhere. As it contends with the epic task of Brexit, May’s government is unlikely to succeed where others have failed.