I’ve joined with other council leaders from across the country to demand answers from the Prime Minister about a deal the Government is alleged to have hatched to give Surrey County Council special help to address the social care funding crisis.
We are asking whether it is the case that Surrey council leader David Hodge agreed to call off a referendum proposing a 15 per cent council tax rise in return for a secret agreement by the Department for Communities and Local Government to plug a huge gap in the council’s budget caused by social care costs and spending cuts.
Surrey is by no means alone in facing an acute and growing social care crisis.
Here in Birmingham, we spent £346 million on adult social care seven years ago. Taking inflation into account, we’d need to spend £420 million now to be delivering services at the same level.
In fact, because of the Government’s austerity regime, we will be able to spend about £230 million in 2017-18.
Our spending on caring for older people has been decimated. Cut by almost half since 2010.
The independent King’s Fund charity believes that in two years there will be a £2.8 billion gap across the country between demand for social care and local authority resources to pay for social care.
By that time public spending on social care will fall to less than one per cent of GDP.
So, if the Government is prepared to help Surrey it must give the same help to all other councils.
Here is the text of the letter to Theresa May:
The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA
We are writing regarding funding arrangements for Conservative-run Surrey County Council. Specifically, the alleged reason behind David Hodge’s decision to drop a planned referendum on increasing council tax by 15 per cent to cover the severe shortfalls in social care, after apparently holding ‘several conversations’ with Whitehall figures.
It has been widely reported in leaked texts, sent by David Hodge supposedly intended for Nick King, Sajid Javid’s special advisor, that DCLG was working on a ‘Memorandum of Understanding.’
In response, as Leaders of Labour councils and council groups, we have a series of questions:
- Was a deal struck for Surrey County Council?
- If so, what are the details of the deal?
- Why was a special deal struck with Surrey behind closed doors?
Does the Government finally recognise that local Government is grossly underfunded and is that why they have given a special deal to Surrey?
- Does the Government now recognise that there will be a £2.6bn shortfall in social care funding by 2020?
- If a deal was struck, will Ministers offer the same deal given to Surrey to all councils, regardless of political affiliation, when the Local Government finance settlement is published on 22nd February?
We have a crisis in social care, resulting from the Conservative Government’s cuts to local authority funding. Secret backroom deals are not the answer. We urgently need a proper solution, which means providing councils with the funding they needed to solve this crisis.
Given the public interest in this matter we will be publishing this letter.
Barrie Grunwald St Helen’s Council
Mohammed Butt Brent Council
Richard Watts Islington Council
Stewart Young Cumbria County Council
Simon Henig Durham County Council
Nick Forbes Newcastle City Council
Lewis Herbert Cambridge City Council
Peter Martland Milton Keynes Council
Warren Morgan Brighton & Hove City Council
Jaz Athwal Redbridge Council
Sharon Taylor Stevenage Council
Simon Greaves Bassetlaw Council
Peter John Southwark Council
Sam Dixon Cheshire West and Chester Council
Steven Brady Hull City Council
Iain Malcolm South Tyneside Council
Ray Oxby North East Lincolnshire Council
David Budd Middlesborough Council
Jean Stretton Oldham Council
Simon Letts Southampton Council
Sue Jeffrey Redcar and Cleveland Council
Doug Taylor Enfield Council
Susan Hinchcliffe Bradford Council
Mark Townsend Burnley District Council
Hazel Simmons Luton Council
Alan Rhodes Nottinghamshire County Council
Claire Kober Harringey Council
Peter Box Wakefield Council
Christopher Akers-Belcher Hartlepool Council
Richard Leese Manchester City Council
Judith Blake Leeds City Council
Bob Price Oxford Council
Tom Beattie Corby Council
Sachan Shah Harrow Council
Bob Cook Stockton Council
John Clancy Birmingham City Council
Julian Bell Ealing Council
Julie Dore Sheffield City Council
Steve Bullock Lewisham Council
Shaun Davies Telford & Wrekin Council
Terry O’Neill Warrington Council
Stephen Lydon Stroud Council
Phil Davies Wirral Council
Alexander Ganotis Stockport Council
Steve Eling Sandwell Council
Sarah Hayward Camden Council
Peter Lamb Crawley Council
Simon Blackburn Blackpool Council
Steve Houghton Barnsley Council
Jon Collins Nottingham City Council
Robin Wales Newham Council
Alistair Bradley Chorley Council
Stephen Alambritis Merton Council
Darren Rodwell Barking and Dagenham Council
Ian Maher Sefton Council
Ros Jones Doncaster Council
Roger Lawrence Wolverhampton Council
Martin Gannon Gateshead Council
Tim Swift Calderdale Council
Cliff Morris Bolton Council
Pete Lowe Dudley Council
Tony Newman Croydon Council
— LeaderofBirmingham (@BrumLeader) December 15, 2016
Earlier today I spoke to BBC News about the social care crisis facing vulnerable people across the country.
— 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.