Budget Statement - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:05 pm on 4th December 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 4:05 pm, 4th December 2017

My Lords, I want to focus my remarks on what was not in the Budget Statement. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth has already raised concerns about social care, and I make no apology for doing the same.

Before I start, I draw the House’s attention to my interests in the register: I am a councillor on Kirklees Council and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Therefore, I speak with some experience about the real and direct impact on people in the absence of government action on social care funding.

The Chancellor made no mention of the crisis in care for adults who depend on local authorities to fund all or part of their care. Those adults include older people—we often focus on that—and adults with complex physical and learning disabilities. The fact that there is a funding crisis is well-documented. A House of Commons Library briefing last month described adult social care as the largest discretionary budget of local authorities, and it is in crisis.

In my own council, the combined proportion of the net council budget for adults and children’s social services is 70%—70% of the council’s total net budget is spent on the care of others. That ratio has grown significantly, across my council and all councils, as cuts are made in other services, such as road repairs and keeping libraries open, to enable care to be provided.

However, the consequences of continued and substantial cuts in local authority spending by the reduction in central government grants, plus increasing numbers of older people in need of care and the rising costs in the care sector, have resulted in people not being able to get the care they need. One estimate is that there are 1 million people in this country who are not getting the care that ought to be provided. The reason for this, apart from the consequences of funding, is that councils are reducing eligibility criteria so that only those with the most urgent and complex needs qualify for care; everybody else is left to cater for themselves. The Local Government Association estimates that there will be a £2.3 billion funding gap by 2019-20. That is only for adult social care.

This is not just a local government perspective on what is going on. As has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, the Competition and Markets Authority reported last month that the care sector is not sustainable. The Institute for Fiscal Studies analysed care funding from 2009 to 2016, and it concluded that chronic underfunding and short-term fixes are making it simply impossible for local authorities to plan effectively. On local government funding, the IFS went on to comment that it is not appropriate to use an outdated formula that everyone agrees is no longer fit for purpose. Which?, the consumer campaigning organisation, also investigated the care home market and reported last month. It concluded that the crisis is real and that urgent action is needed now.

Last month, prior to the Budget, the King’s Fund said that unless the Chancellor finds additional funding in the Budget, people will be denied the care they need. In 2016, the King’s Fund produced a report on the care sector that stated:

“Access to care depends increasingly on what people can afford – and where they live – rather than on what they need”.

It went on to state:

“Local authorities have little room to make further savings, and most will soon be unable to meet basic statutory duties”.

So the crisis is real and getting worse. That cannot be disputed.

The Government can, of course, point to some sticking-plaster fixes. They have passed on the cost of social care to some extent to hard-pressed council tax payers by enabling councils to increase council tax by adding a 3% social care precept last year and this coming year. In the spring financial statement, the Government allocated additional funds over a three-year period—which, of course, is not sustainable—and then tied that funding to NHS bed-blocking criteria, rather than trying to deal with the fundamental answer to the crisis.

We have been promised a Green Paper—we have been promised one for a long time now—to lay out a long-term solution. We have had the Dilnot report, which you would have thought would be a sufficient solution. The Green Paper is now promised for next summer, but a Green Paper is a long way from a fundamental fix for the situation. Meanwhile, people struggle with daily and basic living needs.

So I ask the Minister: do the Government agree that there is a funding crisis in adult social care and that there is duty on them to provide leadership and solutions with additional long-term funding? If so, the failure to address the need is both inexplicable and damning. I have not even referred to children’s social care, which is by some estimates facing an even greater funding crisis. I look forward to a constructive and positive response from the Minister.