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‘Poor Tax’ will not solve Birmingham’s social care funding crisis – council leader

‘Poor Tax’ will not solve Birmingham’s social care funding crisis – council leader

🕔14.Dec 2016

The Local Government Finance Settlement will be unveiled by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid in the House of Commons tomorrow. He is expected to raise the maximum level of the social care precept from two to three per cent. Birmingham city council, which faces a major challenge in adult social care as well as in other areas, is not expected to be singing the praises of the Conservative Bromsgrove MP or Theresa May’s government.

In fact, both Birmingham’s leader and chief executive are taking a noticeably unforgiving tone in their public comments following the launch of the Council’s draft budget last week and in the lead up to the Department of Communities and Local Government allocation of central government funding of local authorities.

In a blog post, Cllr John Clancy writes:

The truth is a two per cent levy, or even a four per cent increase, won’t do very much to plug a gaping hole in Birmingham’s social care budget, which has been hit hard by six years of Government austerity cuts.

The amount of grant we receive from central government to pay for public services has fallen by a staggering 34 per cent since 2010. We’ve cut our spending by almost £600 million in six years, and expect to take out a further £250 million by 2021.

Cuts on such an unprecedented scale cannot be driven through without consequences. And the truth is social services in Birmingham, and in all other major cities, are struggling to cope.

In Birmingham a two per cent social care levy will raise about £5 million, which sounds like a lot of money. But this has to be seen against the £200 million-plus we still spend on adult social care. A two per cent levy will allow us to increase spending on care for older people by about 2.5 per cent – every little is welcome, but it’s hardly going to be a game changer.

The Labour leader of Birmingham takes the argument further, accusing the Prime Minister of planning a “Poor Tax”:

There’s a bigger issue here, too. Birmingham has higher than average levels of poverty and deprivation, and a far larger number of cheaper houses than most other cities. In fact, half of all domestic properties in Birmingham are in the lowest council tax bands of A and B and are worth less than £120,000 – against the UK national average house price of £216,674.

This means the levy will hit the poorest the hardest, and that’s just not fair.

Families that really can’t afford higher council tax bills are being asked to pay-up for social care because the Government refuses to do so. This isn’t just a council tax levy – it’s a Poor Tax levy.

Many years ago Mrs Thatcher introduced the poll tax. Now Theresa May is planning a Poor Tax.

Cllr Clancy is seemingly not alone at the Council House in taking a tougher line with the Government. Mark Rogers was interviewed by the Guardian a few weeks ago with the interview published this week, surprising some of his own officers with his comments bordering on political.

The report of the interview with Mr Rogers states:

Rogers said the council had reached “a deadly serious situation for too many vulnerable people who face the prospect of not having their needs met”. He said that as a non-elected official it was not his place to use words such as “catastrophic”, but added: “We are fast reaching the point where there could be catastrophic consequences for some people.”

On social care, social affairs writer Amelia Gentleman reports:

Eligibility for adult social care has been restricted so that only people with “substantial and critical” needs now receive help. Rogers said: “We are having to be much more stringent about that eligibility.

As the government debates how to bridge a vast national social care funding gap, this year another £28m was cut from Birmingham’s adult care budget of £230m. The council is still cutting 10% a year. “The big disaster that is coming is if the government doesn’t do anything for social care,” Rogers said.

The Guardian report continues:

He refused to subscribe to the Conservative argument – voiced most powerfully by the former communities secretary Eric Pickles – that local government was previously bloated. “I don’t subscribe to the language of being fat or flabby,” he said, although he acknowledged that “with hindsight we could have spent that money with greater efficacy”.

He believed the imposition of large cuts was not simply a response to the 2008 banking crisis. “Deficit reduction enabled first the coalition and then the straight Tory government to pursue a straight Tory objective of a smaller state.”

Clearly, Cllr Clancy and Mr Rogers are not concerned by expressing more explicit challenges to Government even though the cloud of Kerslake continues to hang over the council.

Earlier today, at Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May said the “short-term pressures” on the care system “will be addressed” and signalled that more radical changes would be forthcoming to “provide a long-term sustainable system”.

Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition, said older people were being left to live a “horrible, isolated life, when they should be cared for by all of us, through a properly funded social care system”. He urged the Prime Minister to cancel planned cuts to corporation tax and ring fence the money to fund social care.

Mr Corbyn pointed out that increases in council tax raised more in wealthy parts of the country.

Raising council tax has a different outcome in different parts of the country.

Is she saying that older people – frail, elderly, vulnerable older people – are less valuable in our cities than in other parts of the country?

The PM insisted funding was not the only answer to the problem, pointing to what she said were poorly performing councils.

There are also some councils across the country – some Labour councils – who have not taken that opportunity, and where we see a worse performance.

We recognise that there are indeed pressures on social care, but we also recognise that this is not just about money; it is about delivery.

Yesterday, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told the House of Lords NHS Financial Sustainability Committee that he believed a greater share of GDP would have to be spent on health and care services in the long term.

Yes, we are going to have to find a way of devoting a greater share of our national resources into health and social care – without doubt.

Mr Hunt also said younger people needed to be encouraged to think more about how they will pay for their own care needs.

There is a longer-term problem which is we need to get into the habit of saving more when we’re younger, like we do for pensions.

Giving evidence before the same group of peers, NHS England boss Simon Stevens suggested scrapping the ‘triple lock’ on the state pension in favour of a new “triple guarantee” on income, housing and care.

We need to go beyond just thinking about the health and social care funding and also think about what’s happening in the benefits system, the pensions system and so forth.

I’m personally attracted to the idea that we obviously have a triple lock until 2020… a new way of thinking about that would be a triple guarantee for old people in this country, which would be a guarantee around income, around housing, and around care.

Councillor Clancy stated on his blog:

The Government’s claim that a social care precept will address the serious and fast-growing crisis in adult social services across the country is disingenuous, at best. The gap between demand for social care, fuelled by a growing elderly population, and the amount councils in austerity Britain can afford to spend is vast.

He pointed to the words of Warwickshire’s Conservative leader, Cllr Izzy Seecombe, who leads for the Local Government Association on Community Wellbeing. Following the Autumn Statement, where social care funding was not mentioned, she said:

We have estimated that social care for the elderly and disabled faces a funding gap of at least £2.6 billion. Extra council tax-raising powers will not bring in enough money to alleviate the pressure on social care and councils will not receive the vast majority of new funding in the Better Care Fund until the end of the decade. Services supporting our elderly and vulnerable are at breaking point now.

The Government cannot ignore this crisis. It must recognise why social care matters and treat it as a national priority. If councils are to stand any chance of protecting the services which care for the elderly and vulnerable, this means urgent action to properly fund social care.

Image: The celebrations for National Care Home Open Day © CQC/Joe D Miles – ImageCapture

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