The chancellor has been accused of missing an opportunity to solve the social care funding crisis, despite announcing measures that could see funding rise by up to £3.5 billion a year by 2020.
Announcing the results of the spending review, which detail the government’s spending plans until the next general election in 2020, George Osborne told MPs that the government’s task was “to rebuild Britain, build our finances, build our defences, build our society”.
Osborne said that one of his four objectives was to develop a “modern, integrated, health and social care system”, although he made it clear that the NHS – rather than social care – was the government’s “first priority”.
He admitted that “many local authorities are not going to be able to meet growing social care needs unless they have new sources of funding”, which would have to come from taxes.
He said that local authorities with social care responsibilities would be able to increase their council tax bills by two per cent a year, as long as all the extra funding was spent on adult social care.
If all local authorities take advantage of the new levy, it could produce nearly £2 billion a year in extra social care funding by 2019-20.
There will also be £1.5 billion a year for the Better Care Fund – launched in 2013 to help with the integration of health and social care services – by 2019-20.
The government claims these two measures should mean councils can ensure a real-terms increase in social care funding by 2020.
Despite the announcements, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has yet to say* whether there will be any repeat of this year’s grant to local authorities to fund former users of the Independent Living Fund (ILF).
ILF was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, and when it closed on 30 June it was helping nearly 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently.
But ministers decided it should be scrapped, promising instead that nine months’ worth of non-ring-fenced funding would be transferred through DCLG to councils in England, and to devolved governments in Wales and Scotland.
The government has always insisted that any grants in 2016-17 would depend on the spending review, but DCLG has yet to say what grants – if any – it will now make to local authorities.
As part of the spending review, the Department of Health also said this week that health and social care services would be fully integrated across England by 2020, with each area developing plans to carry this out by 2017.
Despite the extra funding, McDonnell accused Osborne of an “attack on social care”, and said that directors of adult social services had warned that the two per cent council tax increase would be “not nearly enough to fill the funding gap this government have created”.
He told MPs: “The result is that some of the most vulnerable people in our society will be at risk and more people will be forced to resort to their local hospital for their care.”
Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the new tax-raising powers given to councils for social care “come nowhere close to raising the money we need in the future”.
Disability Rights UK (DR UK) said the ability of councils to increase council tax bills by two per cent a year to fund social care was “likely to see an increase in the postcode lottery for care”.
A DR UK spokesperson said: “Some local authorities may choose not to implement it; and there’s still not enough social care funding to support disabled people to live independently.”
Parkinson’s UK said the spending review was “a host of missed opportunities” to “solve the snowballing crisis in social care”, and that giving local authorities the freedom to raise taxes locally “will only entrench the postcode lottery of care provision”, while the £1.5 billion for the Better Care Fund “isn’t enough”.
*By 7pm this evening (Thursday)