YESTERDAY I asked the Secretary of State Sajid Javid a number of questions about the latest local government finance settlement. First, does it step up to meet the scale of the challenges facing local public services in England today?
Does it meet the challenge of 1.2 million older people who would have been entitled to social care in 2010 who no longer get the care they need?
Does it meet the challenge of huge increases in the number of child protection and looked-after children cases reported by the LGA?
After nearly a decade of Tory-dominated Government, does it begin to rebuild the essential community infrastructure that was taken away after the financial crash?
My view is that it fails on every one of those counts.
The funding settlement today is little more than an insult.
Last week Conservative run Northamptonshire County Council hammered this message home for him, when it issued a section 114 notice stating that is no longer able to pay for the bulk of the services it runs, its reserves are depleted and that it has no confidence that it can bring its finances under control. And yesterday, Surrey County Council was the latest Conservative run council to announce that was in financial trouble.
You wonder whether the government are getting the message yet. Or whether Sajid Javid is toying with councils to see how far they can be pushed. Though the embarrassment uncovered by Andrew Gwynne of the incorrect settlement in December followed by an acceptance the Secretary of State knew about the error but continued anyway, followed by a complete denial make you wonder if his mind is elsewhere!
We need a mature and honest debate about the state of council funding and how we meet the challenges of huge demand in adult and children’s social care. Countless times Labour have painted the picture for the government, using evidence of funding pressures from right across the local government sector, figures which have been tried and tested.
Let’s lay out the case.
Central Government funding of local services has reduced by 40%—less money when demand is increasing—and we all know that it has not been distributed evenly. The overall reduction has hit local authorities with lower tax bases hardest because they are more dependent on central Government grant.
The UK Government’s total spending on local government, as a share of the economy, has fallen sharply. In 2010, it accounted for 8.4% of the economy; by 2022, the figure will be down to 5.7%, which constitutes a 60-year low.
Yet councils in England still have 1,200 statutory obligations. They have less money, but the same is required of them. That has had an impact on people, in that 811,000 fewer people now work in local government – that’s the equivalent of every working age man and women in Birmingham!
The local government workforce today is the lowest since comparable records began, when the central Government workforce is the highest that it has been since comparable records began.
If austerity had not kicked in and affected our local council base, councils today would have £14 billion more than they have. That would be sufficient to deal with the crisis in social care and the crisis in children’s services. So this is not just a crisis of demand alone, but the consequences of year on year cuts targeted at local councils.
The human cost
There is absolutely no such thing as “no cost effect” when it comes to not providing vital services for people. We know that because older people are not being looked after the way that they need to be looked after. We know because social care is not being provided in the home. More than 3 million delayed-discharge days have been attributed to a lack of social care. More than 123,000 acute and non-acute beds have been taken by people who deserve and want to be in their own homes receiving the care they need.
As a society, we must make up our minds about the type of country in which we want to live. Are we the country that ignores older people who need care because we can ignore them? They are not visible in the same way as ambulances queuing up at A&E. The truth is that 1.2 million people who are in their homes are being ignored by central Government, and by the Treasury in particular. I think that they deserve better.
Children’s services are also at breaking point. The number of young people subject to child protection enquires increased by 140% in the last decade. Yet Children’s services face a £2 billion funding gap by 2020.
Although the Government has made money available to councils for the next two years, it doesn’t touch the sides of the £5.8 billion funding gap across the sector, of which £1.3bn is needed today just to stabilise the care provider ‘market’ Nor is this new money. Instead, is money the Secretary of State has found in departmental reserves. This isn’t a sustainable funding strategy.
You might say ‘well even if it’s short term at least its money today’. Let’s put the 150m into perspective. There are 26 English councils who spend more on this individually on Adult Social Care, from Manchester (£152) to Essex (£424m). It works out at just £14 per over 65 year old in England, or a measly 27p a week!
Meanwhile council tax payers are being forced to take the strain, with councils left with no other option but to increase their bills to help fund services. This is also not sustainable, and will not bridge the overall funding gap.
The proposed 1% social care precept will only add further pressure onto council tax payers and although it has the potential to raise £233m it will be based on house values in 1991, not on the demand for care in each area. This will mean that leafy Richmond could generate enough to allocate an additional £36 per over 65 year old, while Rochdale just £18. This still falls way short, and those two are not the extreme examples by a long way!
What this tells us is simple. Not only are the government indifferent to the plight of vital public services, but that they have no plan to deal with rising demand for social care. This will leave those most in need of care and safeguarding at risk and expose hardworking councils to the very real danger of going broke.
Our councils, our communities and our country deserves better than that.