The full cost of care

19 March 2015

It has often been said that you can judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members. The phrase has almost become a cliché, but it remains true nonetheless. We must not accept a situation where our elderly residents and people with long term conditions get anything other than care that is worthy of the name. The time to get this right is fast running out.

We need to be honest about the scale of the crisis. In the face of a 40 per cent cut to core local government funding over the life of this Parliament, councils have already had to make reductions equivalent to more than £3.5 billion from adult social care budgets over the last four years. Last year they also had to move £900 million from other services to maintain social care. This year the cost will rise by £1.1 billion if they are going to keep plugging the gap.

High quality care that supports people’s dignity and independence is priceless. But it does have a cost. There will be consequences to the decisions that councils are being forced into in order to find the money they need. Libraries, parks or leisure centres are being put at risk. Counter-productively, to pay for care councils might have to cut exactly the things that help make that care unnecessary.

Our “Show Us You Care” campaign is calling for the next administration to protect adult social care funding in the same way as the NHS, to close the funding gap to make sure there is enough money to meet growing demand. Crucially, they will also have to make sure that the costs of properly implementing the Care Act are covered so we don’t lose the opportunity to have the preventative, personalised, coordinated approach that people want.

As the recent pressures on the NHS show, the world is not made up of discrete systems and budgets. If you take money out over here, there are consequences over there. Councils have worked enormously hard to lower the proportion of transfers from hospital that get delayed as a result of social care to only one in four. But there is a real chance this will slip next year if there is not enough money available.

Because of these interdependencies between health and social care, local government plays a vital role in helping to keep people out of hospital. This idea is at the heart of the Better Care Fund. For it to work properly towards true integration there must be proper transition funding and a return to the original intention of local flexibility and determination.

This local approach is the key. Local government is twice as trusted as central government, and seven out of ten people are satisfied with the way their council is performing. Councils have a great track record of changing the way they do things to offer quality services that work for people while offering value for money. They also play a crucial leadership role through the health and wellbeing boards. With the democratic mandate to represent their residents and their experience of bringing partners together to tailor the right solutions, they must get the resources they need to make life better for those who need support.

By making sure there is enough money, and letting those who understand local needs have the control they need to address them, we will have the opportunity to fix the social care crisis before it becomes a catastrophe.

David Sparks, Chair, Local Government Association

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