Political cowardice stops government acting

Last year, English councils spent about £45bn. More than £25bn of that was spent on adult social care and children’s social care – about 56% of total spending.

Councils received about £26bn from council tax and £18bn from a combination of local business rates (NNDR) and government grants. Local fees and charges made up the difference.

At its simplest, therefore, you might say that all of your council tax has been used to pay for children’s and adult social care, whilst business rates and grants have been used to pay for all other council services (waste collection and disposal, parks, libraries, fire services, highway maintenance and street lighting etc.)

Since 2010, the Coalition and then the Conservative governments have made big cuts each and every year in government grants to local councils. The government plans to phase out Revenue Support Grant – easily the biggest grant – altogether in the coming years.

Effectively, council spending has been nationalised by the government. It determines the level and income from business rates, it decides government grants to each and every council. It effectively sets the level of council tax for each and every council as it both determines a cap and then has ‘forced’ councils and police authorities to demand precepts towards the funding of adult social care and police services respectively to fill some of the gap left by government cuts.

Since 2010, local authorities have seen their overall spending power to pay for all local government activities – including adult social care and children’s services – reduce by nearly 30%. Actually, for the councils in the wealthiest areas, the cuts have been less than 10%, whilst the cuts for councils in the poorest areas (typically urban and northern) have been about 40%.

Over this same period, demands for social care have increased for both adults and children.

Despite our ageing and growing population, the number of adults receiving care services – to help them continue living in their own homes – has fallen by more than half-a-million since 2010. Many more people have had their services cut and/or their charges increased way beyond inflation.
Similarly, demand for children’s services has risen. There has been a significant increase in the number of ‘looked-after children’ – a 27% increase over the last decade – and care for these children accounts for about half of all expenditure on children’s services.

Councils have had to try to respond to these increasing demands within their government-determined spending power by switching resources from other services like libraries, parks and highway maintenance. But this is completely unsustainable.

The government is paralysed by Brexit. It has just announced the sixth cancellation of proposals to address adult social care. It keeps making short-term funding announcements to prevent adult and children’s care services collapsing.

Mrs May simply daren’t suggest longer-term proposals to address these issues as that would inevitably produce more splits in the Conservative Party, when it is already completely split over Brexit.
This political cowardice is damaging the lives of millions of individuals – young and old – and their families.

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