Is Matt Hancock’s £240m social care funding boost enough to alleviate £700m in cuts?

The Health Secretary today announced additional funding for social care to “help the NHS through this winter,” but long-term problems still persist. 

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Some £240m in additional funding is to be made available for social care packages this year, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham. The money is enough to buy 71,500 domestic care packages, or 86,500 packages of reablement: short-term intervention aimed at increasing a patient’s independence.

“We’ll use the money to get people who don’t need to be in hospital but do need care back home, back in their communities, so we can free up those vital hospital beds and help people who really need it to get the hospital care they deserve,” Hancock told delegates. The number of patients spending more than four hours in A&E topped 300,000 for the first time in history during the first four months of 2018. 

A “long-term plan” for the sector is scheduled to be published this year, and last month Hancock suggested that worker’s salaries could be auto-enrolled into a new social care fund in a similar system to pension payments.

Despite Hancock’s announcement, the figures fall short of the £700m in cuts to social care that councils are planning to make over 2018/19. A report in June from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said that English councils are planning to push through cuts equivalent to nearly five per cent of the £14.5bn total budget.

Since 2010, adult social care “savings” have amounted to £7bn before short-term funding injections, the Association found. The report noted that short-term funding solutions for social care, while avoiding a “far worse situation”, have failed to give the sector “confidence in meeting its future legislative requirements”.

Responding to the today’s announcement, ADASS president Glen Garrod welcomed the funding for recognising the role of social care in supporting the NHS, but cautioned: “We must also look to what is happening in the community if we are to achieve more. This will help relieve pressure on A&E departments, as we reduce the numbers of people going to hospital because of gaps in community support.”

“This funding can only be a temporary and partial 'fix' - we need to go much further, much faster, if we are to truly support people in the community. This can only be achieved with greater co-ordination between health, social care and housing services, and through a long-term settlement for adult social care.”

According to a June report from the Kings Fund, an ageing population and the higher life expectancy of younger adults with disabilities are piling extra pressure on social care services, and will open a “funding gap” of £18bn by 2030/31. The charity accused the government of having “ducked” the challenge of social care reform despite the publication of 12 green and white papers and five independent commissions over the last 20 years.

“There is a severe crisis in social care caused by eight years of Tory austerity, and tinkering at the edges like this is not going to solve it,” said Shadow Health Secretary Barbara Keeley of Hancock’s announcement.

“With 400,000 fewer people receiving care under this government than in 2010, funding such a small number of care packages is a drop in the ocean. Labour will rebuild social care services, starting with an extra £8bn across a parliament to start to ease the crisis, to lift care quality and ensure more people get the support they need.”