Social care boost urgently needed - Lamb

More vulnerable people will suffer from failures of care unless the Government addresses the chronic underfunding of the social care system in next week’s Autumn Statement, Norman Lamb has warned. 

This week, the North Norfolk MP challenged the Health Secretary to confront the growing crisis in social care, and repeated his call for the Government to work together with other political parties to develop a sustainable long-term funding settlement. Speaking in a House of Commons debate, he said:

“Does the Secretary of State ever feel that he is confronted by a pretty fundamental choice? He can either preside over a system that deteriorates with an increasing number of failures of care, which I know he cares passionately about, or he can be the politician in Government who confronts that, who works with other parties and who comes up with a sustainable long-term solution. It is one or the other. I urge him to take the latter course.”

The care sector is teetering on the brink of collapse. Despite an ageing population and rapidly rising demand for care services, spending on social care in the UK is set to fall to less than 1% of GDP by the end of the decade. Cuts to the budgets of local authorities have meant that increasing numbers of elderly and disabled social care users are not receiving adequate support to live independently, and are left to fend for themselves unless they can afford to pay for care.

Avoidable hospital admissions caused by a lack of community care have also exacerbated pressure on hospital departments which are already over-stretched. In September, a total of 196,246 hospital bed days were lost due to delays in discharging patients who were medically well enough to leave hospital – the highest number since records began. The main reason for these delays was a lack of follow-up care in the community.

The Liberal Democrats have long called for the creation of a cross-party commission to find an efficient and effective solution to the existential threat to the future of the NHS and social care, and have set up an expert group to look at the case for a dedicated Health and Care Tax. In this week’s debate, Norman Lamb repeated his plea to the government and opposition parties to be pragmatic and open-minded on the possibility of a tax to sustain these cherished services for future generations:

“All of us on both sides of the House must confront the chronic underfunding of the health and care system, and we need to find ways to raise significantly more resources to ensure we have a modern and efficient health and care system.”

The social care precept, which was announced in last year’s Spending Review, allows local authorities to increase council tax by an extra 2% per annum to raise extra funds for social care. The Government is reported to be considering lifting the 2% cap, in order to allow local areas to raise yet more money for social care at no extra cost to the Treasury. But in a letter to the Health Secretary, Mr. Lamb has warned that the Government must not treat the social care precept as an excuse to starve local authorities of the central funding required to provide care users with the support they need. He wrote:

“Last year, I welcomed the social care precept as a means of providing additional flexibility to local authorities – but only on the condition that this serves to supplement, rather than replace, a fair allocation of resources to local authorities from central government.

“With councils coming under ever greater financial strain, reliance on the social care precept to fund care services will inevitably entrench and widen regional health inequalities, as poorer parts of the country with the greatest health needs are less able to raise the resources needed. Having read reports that the Government intends to lift the 2% cap on the social care precept, I would appreciate your thoughts on this.”

Commenting ahead of the Autumn Statement, Norman Lamb said:

“Emergency funding is desperately needed to halt the rapid deterioration of the care sector. The system is now at breaking point, which will have devastating consequences for elderly and disabled people who are told that there is no care available. The Government knows this, so it would be unthinkable for the Prime Minister and the Chancellor not to act in next week’s Autumn Statement.”

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