Social care bears the brunt

The public, politicians and the media must demand a sustainable solution to Britain’s adult social care crisis, argues deputy leader of Bolton council Linda Thomas

By the chancellor’s own admission it was so far so good as he gave himself a smug pat on the back at the dispatch box, proclaiming the government had remained ‘undistracted’ in the preparation for the much-hyped Brexit budget.

Phillip Hammond’s arrogant boardroom brashness was followed by the long awaited autumn budget omission – extra funding for social care – dressed up as the government’s headline announcement.

Shamed, after months of a social movement of mounting pressure across the health and care community, voluntary sector, local government and cross-party members of parliament alike, the government’s arm was well and truly twisted.

The demand for an immediate injection of £2.6bn to stand still emerged as just £2bn over three years for all councils. A cheque which pales in comparison to the £4.6bn already cut from social care since the coalition’s austerity axe began to swing in 2010. Although an unspoken promise, actions speak lounder than words; this is just a slight deviation on the Tories’ ultimate goal of shrinking the state to 36 per cent of GDP.

It would be churlish not to acknowledge the £2bn as respite this year. However £1.3bn is needed immediately to pay for the cost of the government’s so-called ‘living wage’ in the care sector. This Tories’ failure to agree a Plan B for the fragile care provider sector is alarming.

Those who bear the brunt of the care crisis – the army of carers living and just coping daily with their situation – have been conveniently out of sight out of mind. The rising demographics of elderly with chronic conditions have only been acknowledged now because they are seen daily on our TV screens lying on trolleys in overcrowded A&Es.

The care crisis is undeniably here. Government cuts have laden councils with additional unfunded burdens such as the Care Act and deprivation of liberty safeguards, in turn creating pressures on delivering other universal services. Councils across the country must deal with ever increasing scepticism from local people facing additional adult social care precepts for consecutive years – an unscrupulous tactic by the government.

Six years of austerity; council tax rises but reduced services, the scepticism is understandable.

Bins, potholes and parks feel like the public’s priorities, not the reality that councils’ largest controllable statutory budgets are for social care and growing daily. Whatever else the Surrey ‘sweetheart deal’ debacle achieved, it demonstrated the seriousness of the crisis by the very public blue-on-blue fight. Local Surrey MPs Chris Grayling, Jeremy Hunt and Hammond were all instrumental in ensuring Surrey the deal that means Surrey council will receive the largest allocation of the £2bn, compared to other councils. Hardly transparent and fair, but then in the survival of the fittest, he who shouts the loudest appears to be acceptable in Tory circles.

Surrey council’s approach has opened a pandora’s box whereby the care crisis can no longer be ignored. It is incumbent on all the public, politicians and media to demand a long-term sustainable solution to the care crisis which, if not resolved, will inevitably be the downfall of our National Health Service.

The oncoming storm of Brexit will always be the elephant in the room. An NHS and care system so reliant on low-paid and undervalued migrant workers exacerbates the fragility of the care market. Workforce reform is crucial.

We have had a budget with a sticking plaster approach but the concern is that whatever Brexit deal Theresa May walks away with, the NHS will bear the brunt. And where this leaves the poor relation that is social care we can only guess.

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Linda Thomas is deputy leader of Bolton council. She tweets at @CllrLindaThomas

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