As the chancellor took to the dispatch box to pronounce on his first Spending Review, it was tweeted that the chamber emptied. MPs taking the opportunity to show their feelings for a curtailed spending review delivered in a fervent fluctuating environment.
Whilst MPs might have decided not to listen to the longer term plans of a government under fire, the rest of us tuned in – acknowledging that today’s announcements continue to matter – particularly those that relate to local government funding at this critical juncture in their budget setting and planning cycle.
As is increasingly the custom, much of the actual detail of the spending review had been pre launched. However, the figures for social care had been more speculative – so it was important to know the detail.
The figure announced was that local authorities would get an additional £1.5bn for social care.
But of course – as with all of these announcements – it is key to recognise that the detail reveal all. Firstly – I must acknowledge thanks to Richard Humphries at the Kings Fund for sharing the treasury text of the review. Helping to make it clear what the announcement actually means.
So very importantly – the actual detail is £1 billion on social care to go directly to authorities – but this is to be shared between adults and children.
Then the additional £0.5 billion, which is designated purely for adult social care, is to be raised via council tax precept which will require consultation and is in the gift of individual authorities as to whether or not they utilise this option. Not forgetting of course, that the challenge of precept raised income is that it does the least in the areas of the most need – i.e. where the ability to raise income from council tax is lowest.
This increase in funding was announced as being on top of the £2.5 billion of additional funding already allocated to social care. This implies that the pre-existing grants that have been added to the traditional social care settlement will continue. This is critical information, and provided at an exceptionally timely moment based on the announcements made by ADASS earlier in the week relating to the need for certainty to avoid the imminent decommissioning of services.
The Chancellor described this Spending Review as a new chapter for public services, and of course the announcements included much trailed additional funding for schools, police and health. Alongside an additional £2 billion for Brexit delivery next year.
However, what is also interesting is the hints at what might lie ahead in a future spending review (suspending the understanding of where we are in relation to stable government). Sajid Javid talked about how going forward there was a need for a new economic plan. The need to invest in economies that will grow and support the future of the UK. With this in mind, the need to cement the case for care as part of any economic powerhouse has never been more important. In research carried out in 2017-18 the economic contribution of adult social care to the UK economy was over £46 billion (£38 billion in England) – in comparison – for example to the £18 billion contribution of the car industry – or the £29.5 billion contribution of the cultural sector. This figure does not even acknowledge the £59 billion contribution recognised by the ONS in 2017 of unpaid carers. Therefore, we need to ensure that in any future government thinking, the contribution of the care sector to economic growth is front and centre of investment decisions. Particularly when the Chancellors speech focussed on the ‘need to prioritise investment in policies that deliver real productivity gains and boost economic growth in the long term’. Well, demography alone would suggest that this is one sector that is going to grow and grow in the long term.
In addition, the Chancellor noted the importance of infrastructure funding going forward. Again, there is the potential for some serious reframing of infrastructure to incorporate care. As flexible and home working models increase – the need for good quality transport and roads will remain. However, what will it be that really enables people to ‘get to work’? It will include having reliable, great care for their loved ones.
The final re-frame needed for the future is to move us out of the age old Cinderella syndrome experienced by social care. The Chancellor in his speech boldly stated ‘Health and Education aren’t just the names of departments – they’re lifelines of opportunities’. Well he is right – Health is not the name of a department – it is Health and Social care and it is vital that he and the Treasury recognise this. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two sectors that this spending review continues not to recognise. Voices from across health and care have continued to state that it is impossible to have an effective health service without an effectively funded social care service.
The chancellor recognised in his speech that this was a short term plan for social care – describing it as down payment on the fundamental reforms to be set out in due course.
However, without this reform – it feels less like a new chapter for public services – rather a belated additional page to the same old story for social care – providing promise – but no happy ending…