Why the precept isn’t the answer

15 December 2016

Neil Heslopby Neil Heslop

English councils, who have seen their social care budgets shrink by £5 billion since 2010, will undoubtedly welcome the government’s plan, due to be announced this week, to give them increased freedom to raise council tax over the next two years.

As they seek to support ever more disabled and older people over the coming years bringing forward this extra revenue will be vital. 40% of working age disabled adults need social care, but half of them are not getting any support at all.

Temporary sticking plaster

But the social care precept is only a temporary sticking plaster in the face of a much bigger problem. This year the precept was levied by almost all councils in England, but raised just £382 million — nowhere near enough to address the £2.6 billion funding gap councils face by 2020.

If social care is really part of this government’s promise of a more equal country that works for everyone, the precept is the wrong way to achieve it.

That’s because an even bigger problem with the precept is that it raises least in the areas where the most people need care and there is the greatest need for extra funding. The Kings Fund estimates that the 10 least deprived council areas will raise almost two-and-a-half times as much from the precept as the 10 most deprived this year.

Postcode lottery

In this postcode lottery, the amount raised per head of the adult population varies from £5 in Newham and Manchester, to £15 in Richmond on Thames. The government has said it will address these inequalities through the new 'improved' Better Care Fund, but it is not clear how this will work in practice. 

A better short term option would be for the government to urgently bring forward the new money it has already promised through the Better Care Fund — £100 million next year, rising to £800 million in 2018/19 and £1.5 billion in 2019/20. Leonard Cheshire Disability called for this in its recent report on the state of social care in Great Britain and we were disappointed not to see this in the recent Autumn Statement. 

Cross-party approach is vital

However, alongside this a long term sustainable solution is essential. While short term action to stabilise the social care sector is vital, the government must take action to ensure social care is fit for the future.

Genuine reform will take longer than a single parliament which means a cross-party approach is vital to ensure an open and honest public debate about how we want to fund and deliver care in the future.

Without action to agree a long-term plan for social care the human and financial costs will continue to mount, and hundreds of thousands of disabled people will be left without vital support.

Neil Heslop is chief executive at Leonard Cheshire Disability.

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