Ministers accused of being ‘in denial’ about perilous state of local authority finances
More than 50,000 people have died waiting for care while ministers dither over long-awaited plans to overhaul the funding of social care, a charity has claimed.
Age UK estimated that 54,000 people – or 77 a day – have died while waiting for a care package in the 700 days since the government first said in March 2017 it would publish its social care green paper, which has since been delayed several times.
The claim came as a cross-party group of MPs warned that the government was “in denial” about the perilous state of English local authority finances – a crisis driven by a growing demand for the care of vulnerable adults and children.
The Commons public accounts committee (PAC) said that after eight years in which central government funding had halved, councils were under “enormous pressure” just to maintain essential services. MPs accused ministers of having no meaningful plan to ensure local authority finances were sustainable in the future.Advertisement
Overall spending by local authorities on services fell by 19.2% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2016-17, according to the report.
Meg Hillier, the committee chair said: “Government needs to get real, listen fully to the concerns of local government and take a hard look at the real impact funding reductions have on local services.”
The chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced a funding boost for councils at last autumn’s budget, amounting to £1.4 bn in 2018-19 and 2019-20. But the PAC said such short-term fixes failed to deal with the underlying challenges facing councils.
It urged the government to focus on assuring the long-term sustainability of local authority finances, and be more ambitious than simply allowing them to “cope”.
Age UK said tightening eligibility for council-funded social care meant 626,701 people – 895 a day – have had requests for social care refused since March 2017. More than a million older people had developed an unmet care need in that time, such as needing help with washing or dressing, it added.
Officials have admitted delays to the green paper are in part because of Whitehall’s overwhelming focus on Brexit.
Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said: “These tragic new figures demonstrate just how many older people are now suffering from the government’s failure to act decisively on social care.
“No one can say whether some of those who have died might have lived longer had they received care, but at the very least their final weeks and months might have been more comfortable and their families’ lives made easier had they been given more support.”
The charity said its helpline received calls daily from people struggling to get a care package in place, often putting great strain on their health and causing stress for loved ones.
Councils have warned that adult social services services are under strainbecause of £7bn cuts to care budgets since 2010. An estimated £700m of social care cuts were made by English councils over the past few months alone, although the government announced £650m of extra social care funding for next year in the autumn budget.
There is widespread concern in local government that the funding squeeze, coupled with rising demand for adults’ and children’s social care services could push more authorities into insolvency, following in the footsteps of Northamptonshire county council, which declared effective bankruptcy last year.
Shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne accused ministers of having no new money, no ideas and no recognition of the dire situation facing councils. “Under this Conservative government we have seen unprecedented levels of cuts to our local councils,” he told a Commons debate on Tuesday evening.
“Local government is under enormous pressure because of politically motivated cuts that have hit our poorest areas hardest,” he said. “Nine of the 10 most deprived councils in the country have seen cuts of almost three times the national average. And when you cut vital support services in such areas, social problems grow – and demand for those services only becomes greater.
MPs voted on Tuesday night to pass the 2019-20 local government settlement, which Labour condemned as a real-terms cut.
But communities secretary James Brokenshire said government funding plans would lead to a “a fairer, more self-sufficient and resilient future” for local government. He said councils would have more control over the money they raise and a real terms increase in their core spending power.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring everyone has access to the care and support they need and have provided local authorities with access to up to £3.6bn more dedicated funding for adult social care this year and up to £3.9bn for next year to help meet people’s needs.
“We are determined to make social care sustainable for the future and will publish our proposals in a green paper shortly.”
Source: The Guardian