Health Policy

Social care sector “left in uncertainty” following spending review

By - Integrated Care Journal
Social care sector “left in uncertainty” following spending review

The Chancellor unveiled almost £6 billion in extra funding for the health service on Wednesday, with specific priority given to supporting digital uptake in hospitals, creating surgical hubs and boosting diagnostic capacity through the establishment of community diagnostic centres.

While NHS funding boosts have been widely welcomed by the sector, health and care leaders have lamented a gaping absence in dedicated, ring-fenced support for the social care sector. What funding there is for social care must come from £4.8 billion to be given to local authorities over the next three years.

Commenting on this Professor Martin Green, Chief Executive of Care England, said that the lack of dedicated support for social care would mean “serious and far-reaching consequences” for the sector. Professor Green, a member of the newly established ICJ editorial advisory board, said: “Care England has offered a plethora of constructive solutions as to how the government could alleviate this crisis situation, but we have been left out in the cold; winter is going to be very, very tough without a robust social care sector to support the NHS”.

Nigel Edwards, Chief Executive of the Nuffield Trust, also commented on the lack of support for social care. “Social care is once again treated as the poor relation,” Mr Edwards said, “the budget set out will not be enough to truly overhaul a broken system that leaves hundreds of thousands without the care they should get, and will not address the urgent situation as we head into winter. ” 

What is in the budget for health and care?

  • The new Health and Social Care Levy, along with an increase to the rates of dividend tax, will aim to raise around £13 billion per year for spending on health and social care across the UK.

  • £2.3 billion over the next three years to transform diagnostic services with at least 100 community diagnostic centres across England.

  • £2.1 billion over the next three years to support innovative use of digital technology so hospitals.

  • £1.5 billion over the next three years for new surgical hubs, increased bed capacity and equipment to help elective services recover, including surgeries and other medical procedures.

  • £4.8 billion of funding over the next three years for local authorities – partly to fund social care.

Care sector once again left in the lurch

The levelling up agenda and the funding that comes with it is objectively good news for the integrated care agenda. Addressing inequality and integrating health and care services go hand in hand and that the government seems serious about its drive for place based investments should be seen as a positive step.

What is objectively not good news for the sector is the absence of real commitments to save social care from the brink of collapse. Councils have already voiced concerns as to whether the money allocated to social care from the Health and Care levy will be sufficient to fund long lasting reform - this latest omission is the most recent in a long line of budgets that have failed to truly comprehend what is happening in care homes across the country.

The rise in core spending for local government over the next three years, which the Chancellor boasted as the biggest increase in local government central grant funding for a decade, will be dependent on councils increasing council tax by three per cent per annum.

Given the levels of inequality across the country, it seems unreasonable to ask councils to raise taxes which will inevitably widen the gap between authorities who can afford to do this and those who can't.

Once again for local governments, the government seems to give with one hand and immediately takes with the other. The increase to the national living wage, while positive for the country, will place massive pressure on care providers, many of which are already on their knees due to devastating staff shortages.

According to legal advice charity Access Social Care, if the sector were to receive every penny of the £4.8 billion promised to councils, it would still only have around 60 per cent of what it needs to stabilise the system.

If the government’s health and care bill, currently making its way through parliament, is to create a new system of integrated care in this country – then each facet of that system must be protected from collapse. Until then, long term reform of health and care will be left in uncertainty.

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