I want to address two issues, social care and business rates, which are related to inquiries undertaken by the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government.
On social care, the Chancellor mentioned the rising number of elderly people in this country. People are living longer, which is obviously to be welcomed. What he did not say, of course, is that cuts to local council budgets mean that they have reduced spending on social care by 7%, despite prioritising it since 2010. He did not mention the extra costs of the minimum wage or the Care Act 2014, or the fact that councils are now, in the words of the Comptroller and Auditor General, Amyas Morse, moving from doing more for less to doing “less for less”.
When our cross-party Committee looked at the issue, we had a range of forecasts for the gap in next year’s social care funding. Age UK believes that there are more than 1 million people in this country who should be receiving social care but are not. That range of forecasts led the Committee to say that we need £1.5 billion to bridge the gap next year. Although I welcome the fact that the Chancellor recognises that more needs to be done, I am disappointed that the more he has identified is not sufficient to deal with the problem.
I am also disappointed that the Chancellor has not taken up another of our suggestions: that we ask the National Audit Office to undertake a review of the funding gap for the rest of this spending round. I do not believe that the extra £500 million that has been allocated for the next two years is sufficient, given that the Local Government Association says that the total gap in local government funding will be £5 billion by the end of this Parliament. We need the NAO to conduct an independent review.
I am pleased that the Government are prepared to undertake a long-term review of spending for social care, but I am disappointed that the Chancellor has, at the beginning, effectively ruled out one of the options. There are clearly a limited number of ways to raise money to fund social care properly in the long term. The money could be raised from general taxation, from people’s direct contributions to the care they receive, from a new system of discrete taxation through increased national insurance contributions, as happens in Germany, or from an increase in the tax on people’s estates when they die. The Chancellor ruled out the last of those options, even though people might be taxed on their estate, depending on whether they end up in residential care. That is an arbitrary tax, because it depends on whether someone ends up in social care because they have dementia, for example, or whether they die of a heart attack without having needed that kind of care at all. The way in which someone’s life ends can determine whether their house and other assets make a contribution to the Treasury.