Mounting social care crisis won’t be solved by a ‘tax on the poor’
Posted by Editor
— LeaderofBirmingham (@BrumLeader) December 14, 2016
You’ll probably have heard a lot recently about imposing a social care precept.
The Government wants councils like Birmingham to levy an additional two per cent on every council tax bill in the city, with the money generated being used to meet the soaring costs of providing adequate social care for older people.
The Prime Minister is even reportedly considering doubling the two per cent levy to four per cent.
It all sounds very reasonable, doesn’t it? Who could object to paying a little more to help the most vulnerable people?
The truth is a two per cent levy, or even a four per cent increase, won’t do very much to plug a gaping hole in Birmingham’s social care budget, which has been hit hard by six years of Government austerity cuts.
The amount of grant we receive from central government to pay for public services has fallen by a staggering 34 per cent since 2010. We’ve cut our spending by almost £600 million in six years, and expect to take out a further £250 million by 2021.
Cuts on such an unprecedented scale cannot be driven through without consequences. And the truth is social services in Birmingham, and in all other major cities, are struggling to cope.
In Birmingham a two per cent social care levy will raise about £5 million, which sounds like a lot of money. But this has to be seen against the £200 million-plus we still spend on adult social care. A two per cent levy will allow us to increase spending on care for older people by about 2.5 per cent – every little is welcome, but it’s hardly going to be a game changer.
There’s a bigger issue here, too. Birmingham has higher than average levels of poverty and deprivation, and a far larger number of cheaper houses than most other cities. In fact, half of all domestic properties in Birmingham are in the lowest council tax bands of A and B and are worth less than £120,000 – against the UK national average house price of £216,674.
This means the levy will hit the poorest the hardest, and that’s just not fair.
Families that really can’t afford higher council tax bills are being asked to pay-up for social care because the Government refuses to do so. This isn’t just a council tax levy – it’s a Poor Tax levy.
Many years ago Mrs Thatcher introduced the poll tax. Now Theresa May is planning a Poor Tax.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) December 14, 2016
The Government’s claim that a social care precept will address the serious and fast-growing crisis in adult social services across the country is disingenuous, at best. The gap between demand for social care, fuelled by a growing elderly population, and the amount councils in austerity Britain can afford to spend is vast.
Don’t take my word for this. Here’s what some experts have had to say:
- Social care across the country is facing a funding gap of at least £2.6 billion by 2020, even with the current flexibility to increase council tax, according to the Local Government Association.
- A Care Quality Commission report in October pointed to “a growing strain on services for the elderly”.
- Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents the country’s hospitals, told MPs earlier this year that the social care system “is actually in a rather worse state than people are pretending”.
I was in the House of Commons on November 23rd for the Autumn Statement and, like many in local government I waited for the Chancellor to address the social care issue. But he did not. He had nothing to say on the subject.
Consider these comments from one of the country’s leading local government figures:
“Tragically, the human cost of this will be elderly and vulnerable people continuing to face an ever uncertain future where they might no longer receive the dignified care and support they deserve, such as help getting dressed or getting out and about, which is crucial to their independence and wellbeing. The Government cannot ignore this crisis. It must recognise why social care matters and treat it as a national priority.”
Not my words but those of the highly respected Conservative leader of Warwickshire County Council, Izzie Seccombe.
Cllr Seccombe is right. Without a change of heart by the Government vulnerable people will face a highly uncertain future, and a social care precept won’t be of much use.