12 Dec 2016

Philip Hammond gets his way on social care

Philip Hammond has got his way. The Chancellor had been pushing for an additional 2 per cent precept for social care ahead of the Autumn Statement, taking the total precept up to 4%. Theresa May decided against and the phrase “social care” wasn’t even mentioned in the Chancellor’s speech.

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On Thursday, the Government is expected to announce the Local Government Financial Settlement and it’s looking like that precept will be increased. Whitehall sources say it could well be a rise of something like 2 per cent (not the 7 per cent that’s been talked about in some quarters). No. 10 this morning emphasised that the problems in social care provision weren’t just about money. The Government is expected to pile in with a push on “best practice” to correct what it sees as the massive disparity between better-performing councils.

You can see that differential here: a table put together by the House of Commons library listing the worst offenders in terms of delayed transfers of care (days accumulated for older patients at expensive hospitals when they could/should be transferred to care at their own home or in a care home institution). The worst-performing areas are sometimes traditional Tory shires like Hampshire and Oxfordshire, the best performing include a cluster in the North East, dominated by Labour councils.

Theresa May will have hated the idea of throwing money at the problem. At an NHS roundtable in No. 10 this autumn the PM recalled how she believed that at the Home Office she had managed, she argued, to get more from less, reducing crime while cutting the police budget. It’s an approach she’d like to translate into other areas where public services are in crisis. But then there are crises and there’s social care.

Ahead of Thursday’s statement, an urgent question gave Labour MPs an opportunity to decry the very unequal benefits of a precept. Former Labour Chief Whip Rosie Winterton said that in her seat of Doncaster a 1 per cent rise in council tax brings in 21 times less than a better-off area.

One expert from the care world said the rapid rate of care home closures (250 plus since March) was contributing to the problem. In some cases, he said, this was because venture capitalists looking for money spinners were pulling out of the business as margins decreased.

Those margins have been strongly impacted if a care home wasn’t paying the living wage already and is now forced to up its salaries. The Local Government Association believes that nearly two thirds of the money raised by the initial 2 per cent precept went on paying out additional wages.

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