Governments cannot duck the hard choices for much longerby Jennifer Dixon and Hugh Alderwick / September 6, 2019 / Leave a comment
With prorogation, Brexit bills, and the spectre of an early election to keep parliament busy, this week’s spending round—which set government departments’ budgets for 2020/21—may feel like a distant memory to those brave enough to still be following British politics. But the chancellor’s statement is worth examining to identify prioritiesfor any government seeking to improve policy.
Overall, the spending round halted cuts in public services—but isn’t enough to undo the effects of a decade of austerity. Real spending growth will be 4.1 per cent in 2020/21 but that will reverse only a third of the real terms cuts in day-to-day spending since 2010. Funding levels of some services will still be way down on 2010: local government allocations (on a real terms, per capita basis) will be 77 per cent lower than in 2009-10; housing and communities down 52 per cent.
Adult social care has also suffered under austerity, with government spending in England falling from £346 per person in 2010/11 to £324 in 2017/18. People felt the consequences. The number of older citizens receiving publicly funded care fell by 400,000 between 2009/10 and 2015/16. Many more—as many as 1.4m—go without basic care such as help to eat, wash, dress, and go to the loo.
In his first speech as prime minister, Boris Johnson promised to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all,” giving “every older person the dignity and security they deserve.” The latest spending round is not the fix but a temporary sticking plaster.
The chancellor announced £1.5bn to tackle the problem. Of this, £1bn is central government funding, while £500m will need to be raised by councils increasing their social care precept—a ringfenced council tax—by 2 per cent (which could exacerbate inequalities, as richer councils can raise more but may have lower needs). Of the £1bn from central government, £500m is likely to go to children’s services.
This means councils could have an extra £1bn to spend on adult social care in 2020/21. That will help, but will only just meet rising demand. And if councils are unable to raise the precept, the extra money will not be enough to stop decline.
This leaves four priorities for any government serious about fixing the crisis.
First, properly stabilise social care funding beyond 2020/21. Spending will need to grow to keep pace with changing population needs and address staffing shortages (currently at 110,000). On top of the extra £1bn…