National problems

The best way to defend and reform social care lies in one of these books... I hope

This blog is written by staff members from local government and we are in general strong supporters of the localist principle. However, there are times when even localists like us recognise that local government is providing a framework that is no longer appropriate.

And so this is the case with Adult Social Care.

On Friday, the chairman of the LGA Sir Merrick Cockell published a letter from 400 council leaders urging action on Adult Social Care. When written up in the Daily Telegraph ran with the headline:

‘Elderly care funding will force closure of libraries, councils warn’

The letter itself was a little more technocratic. As the Telegraph reported:

They (the LGA) say that a “loss of momentum” would be “dangerous” on three fronts. “First it will exacerbate the problems of an already overstretched care system,” they say. “Second, and as a consequence, it will increasingly limit the availability of valuable local discretionary services as resources are drawn away to plug the gap in care funding. And third, it will fundamentally threaten the broad consensus that has built up around the Dilnot proposals from all quarters.

“The potential damage caused by any one of these dangers, let alone all three, could set the care reform debate back years.” Councils are required by law to provide services such as bin collection, schools, roads and care for the most vulnerable. Services such as leisure centres, parks, sports clubs, after-school clubs and some libraries are classed as “discretionary”.

Sir Merrick and the other leaders from the LGA who signed this letter are totally right that the impact of the increasing cost pressures from adult social care will impact non-discretionary services.

However, there are two elements of this letter that are thoroughly disappointing.

Firstly, I think it says something quite worrying about us as a society that the LGA felt the need to pray in aid discretionary services such as libraries and leisure centres in an effort to focus the minds of the public around the important issue of social care.

Secondly, despite every local authority leader in England and Wales agreeing about the need for something to be done about this issue everyone accepts that the nothing can happen until the Government decide to make a change. Is now also the time to recognise that local control of adult social care is really just an illusory example of localism? Local Government is meant to be about allocating local resources in a way that best meets the needs of a local community.

The social care issue contradicts this in at least two ways.

Firstly, if a large majority of the money a council receives is spent on adult social care the purpose of local elections is lost. Likewise, do we as a society actually want the provision of social care to be different dependant on where someone lives? We already have a situation where local authorities provide services to residents with different need levels dependent on where they are in the country. If the budgetary situation continues to get worse the postcode lottery may also get worse which I don’t believe is in anyone’s interest.

It is also worth saying that if the public were left with responsibility for deciding how resources were allocated on a local level then in many communities street cleaning, bins, leisure centres and especially libraries would receive lower funding cuts than arguably the more important area of adult social care. This doesn’t make much sense either.

A national response to the funding issue is essential but I can’t help wonder if we don’t just need a national response to the funding but also a national response to the long term delivery of social care in this country. How we resolve the current impasse will need top consider this issue alongside the pressing funding concerns mentioned by Sir Merrick and co.

Localism is usually the right way to deal with our country’s public service delivery. However, sometimes the local response is not the right one and a national policy approach is needed. The future of adult social care is probably the biggest test of whether the coalition government is serious about using its remaining political capital to tackle the country’s long term issues or whether the current omni-blundering has drained them of all ability to bring about real change.

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5 Comments on “National problems”

  1. alex Says:

    I imagine that Lincolnshire and Dorset might have some of the higher % populations over 70 years old

    Does the funding formula from central government not try to take these factors into account when they allocate grants to LAs ?

    • The funding formula takes some of these things into account but it is then up to the local authority to spend the money as they see fit… Surely more appropriate is to agree standards of service and then fund according to need in each authority? There is still, I’m afraid, an element of a postcode lottery in this…

  2. Steven Says:

    Sorry to be a bit picky with an otherwise good post: one more disappointment in the LGA letter is that libraries, at least, *aren’t* discretionary. We’re finding these days that the legal definition as to what needs to be provided is a tad short of useful but it’s still part of the statutory requirement.

    • A fair point well made… Maybe we should add that to the list of things the Government need to sort out?

    • jgharston Says:

      A library *service* is non-discretionary. *Libraries* themselves *are* discretionary. You can fully comply with the non-discretionary provision of a library service by just having one main library for the entire council area.

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