Local Government and Social Care Funding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:12 pm on 24th April 2019.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee 3:12 pm, 24th April 2019

As the Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, I think the importance that Select Committees have attached to the issue of social care is shown in the amount of time we spend on inquiries on the issue. We have recently published three reports on adult social care, the last of which was done jointly with the Health and Social Care Committee last year. They were all unanimously agreed by our Committee, and in the latter case by the Committees jointly. We are currently inquiring into children’s social care, with the report due out next week. Those four social care inquiries show how important the issue is for the Committee and for local government as a whole.

As a Sheffield MP, I have to comment on the fact that my city and constituency has received funding cuts that are far higher than the average percentage in the past nine years, since 2010. Like other northern cities, we have been disproportionately hit, as cities with the greatest problems and needs have seen the Government cut their grants by the biggest percentage.

Putting all that to one side, if I look at the wider context, I see real problems for local government, because as a whole local government has had bigger cuts by percentage than any other area of Government spending. That has united councils of all political persuasions in their concerns about the unfair effect those spending cuts have had on local government as a whole. This comes at a time when demand for the main local authority services—care services—has been rising. The number of elderly people has been growing, which has meant that the number of elderly people who need care has been growing. That is great, because people are living longer. The number of people of working age with disabilities—an element of care that we should not forget—has also been growing, which is another success. In percentage terms, the demand for children’s services is going up faster than demand for any other current aspect of local government spending, so that comes on top of what I have described, too.

Those three rising demands mean that despite the fact that more people are in need of elderly care, according to Age Concern some 1.5 million people are not getting it. The threshold has been raised such that people with lower and moderate needs are now excluded from the care systems. People are ending up in hospital who should not be there because prevention is not happening, and people in hospital are not being discharged as quickly as they should be. We see all these things happening as a result.

The pressures on social care are causing other issues. With rising demand and spending on social care, as the cake has shrunk, the proportion of it spent on social care has grown, so the amount spent on other services has proportionately been cut by even more. The National Audit Office has done the figures, and they were given to the Select Committee: cultural and related services have seen a 35% cut; highways services and transport have seen a 37% cut; housing services, including homelessness and private sector housing, have seen a 45% cut; environmental and regulatory services have been cut by 16%; and planning has been cut by 50%. Those are massive cuts to the basic services on which we all rely day to day.

I worry about all that, because although it is of course important that councils concentrate on care, most people in the country do not receive care for themselves or for people in their families on a daily, regular basis; they rely on other services. They are seeing their council tax bills rise and what they get for their money fall. That is a real challenge and problem for local democracy. People are paying more but not getting any more. We ought to be very concerned about that indeed. It needs to be addressed in the widest sense.

I refer to the comments made by Councillor Paul Carter, but people from the Local Government Association, the County Councils Network, the District Councils’ Network, London Councils, and SIGOMA, the special interest group of municipal authorities, have made similar comments. Every council organisation has said that the current situation simply cannot continue and that we need a fundamental change in the amount of money provided for local government in the next spending review. The Select Committee will do an inquiry into that, which will hopefully give Ministers the ammunition with which to badger and berate the Treasury when they have discussions at that level.

We know from the estimates, which no one from the Government has challenged, that by the end of the next spending review children’s services are likely to be £3 billion adrift of the funding they need. Social care for the elderly is already £2 billion adrift, with estimates that the average annual increase required to keep pace with demand is around £800,000. That takes us to around £7 billion adrift.

The quality of care is often forgotten about. We need not only to continue to meet the increase in demand, but to do something to improve quality. If demand is going to increase, we are going to have to recruit more staff, and if we recruit more staff, we are going to have to pay them and train them better, otherwise, we will not be able to retain them. So the costs are going to go up even further.