Local councils are on the front-line, delivering the services which people rely on and which both support and enrich our communities. However, they are under immense financial pressure. Warrington Borough Council is not alone in feeling the financial squeeze imposed for so long by the Government. The latest local government settlement sees a cut of £1.3bn in central government funding. In effect, government has shifted the burden of cuts onto Council Tax payers creating a postcode lottery for public services. The resources announced in the final settlement, coupled with local authority council tax income, are nowhere near enough to meet the £3.1bn funding gap facing councils next year.
The upcoming Fair Funding review threatens to make the funding situation even worse with a big shift in resources going to the most affluent areas. We should not be talking about urban versus rural, or cities versus towns and villages. We should not be discussing how we cut an ever-diminishing cake differently but rather how to increase the size of the cake.
One big loser in all this is social care, which remains in crisis. A massive £7bn has been cut from adult social care since 2010, resulting in falling care quality and care packages being cut or rationed just at a time when the demand is rising.
Despite less money being spent on social care than in 2010 there was no commitment to further funding either in the Budget or Spring Statement and only £150m in the Local Government Finance Settlement. In addition, the Care Cost Cap will not be taken forward leaving thousands of people faced with incurring catastrophic care costs.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Social Care needs a long-term funding commitment in addition to an immediate boost to ease the crisis. We should introduce a lifetime cap on personal contributions to care costs, sharing risk across the population rather than leaving people struggling to cope by themselves. A National Care Service to improve access to fair and affordable social care services, which works alongside and dovetails with the NHS, should be established.
Social Care is too important to be left in crisis any longer. More and more people, and their families, are needing to use these services. We must stop just talking about crisis and do something about it as a matter of extreme urgency.