Two-fifths of local authorities in England have decided not to raise as much as they can through their powers to increase council tax, even though they face a “huge shortfall in funding” and rising demand for adult social care.
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) said yesterday (13 July) that its annual budget survey had found members needed to fill a gap of about £940 million “just to keep services operating at last year’s levels”.
ADASS said the government’s decision to give local authorities the option to raise council tax by two per cent for extra social care funding would raise £380 million, although eight councils had decided not to take advantage of this precept.
But ADASS failed to point out that its own survey showed that 40 per cent of local authorities had either decided to freeze their council tax (16 per cent) or increase it by less than 1.99 per cent (another 24 per cent of councils), the maximum that council tax can increase every year without triggering a local referendum.
The £940 million shortfall is likely to lead to cuts in services, job losses, reductions in people’s personal budgets and a fall in the number of people receiving support.
Only last week, Disability News Service reported that almost half of former recipients of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in the London borough of Merton were facing cuts to their care packages, after their council rejected the chance to ask for more social care funds by raising council tax.
Labour-run Merton council in south-west London had the chance to increase council tax by 1.7 per cent to pay for extra social care funding – it also rejected the extra 1.99 per cent increase in council tax – but turned down the opportunity because of an election promise not to increase taxes for four years.
Of the 151 councils that were surveyed by ADASS, 70 reported that they had cut their adult social services budget, and 52 had had to cut services to balance their budget.
Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “There can be no doubt that local authorities are facing enormous pressures in the provision of social care as a result of government funding restrictions.
“However, a number of local authorities are making the situation even worse by refusing to raise council tax locally when they can to help fill the gap, and by refusing to adopt innovative ways of meeting support needs that give people genuine control.
“In addition, many fail to see the connection between increasing poverty and increased need for social care support and make the situation worse by measures such as increasing charges for social care and not giving discretionary housing payments to disabled people facing the bedroom tax.”
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of the user-led network Shaping Our Lives, declined to criticise local authorities.
He said that councils were already “very hard pressed”, and that raising council tax was not the answer to the budget shortfall.
He said: “For poorer local authorities it means increasing taxes on already hard-pressed communities, while the bucket still has a massive hole through the chronic and worsening under-funding of social care by central government.
“It’s a nice way of government offloading its responsibility and trying to get the blame put on local councils.
“The only solution has to be to give social care proper funding and political priority and bring it into line with the founding principles of the NHS.”
He added: “We should be arguing for a return to more progressive central government taxation, which has to be fairer than inequalities between different areas and regions.
“If we didn’t let rich people and companies off taxes, we wouldn’t have to raise ordinary people’s.”
ADASS refused to comment on the suggestion that many councils were partly to blame for the social care shortfall by not raising as much through council tax as they could.
ADASS president Harold Bodmer said in a press release: “We have been arguing for some time now that adult social care needs to be given the same protection and investment as the NHS.
“We’re at a tipping point where social care is in jeopardy, and unless the government addresses the chronic underfunding of the sector, there will be worrying consequences for the NHS and, most importantly, older and disabled people, their families and carers.”