Now we know what the Government’s financial plans are for the next 3 years. The Spending Round Statement 2013 sets it all out in 70, or so, carefully crafted pages. But the devil is always in the detail of these publications, and the exact implications of the statement will only become clear in the coming weeks and months.
So, I have a series of comments and questions about how the plan affects social services, particularly in England.
The statement trumpets the savings that have already been made in departmental budgets, but without any detailed analysis of their impact. Has all this really been achieved without negative effects, and does anyone care?
A shared, pooled budget of £3.8bn is to be created to further enhance local authority social care in support of the NHS, with £2bn, coming from the health service by 2015/6. Welcome news for social care, but can the NHS afford this transfer and what will its effects be?
And the NHS will have to find an additional £200m next year as an upfront investment in new systems and ways of working that will benefit both services. What will the effects of that immediate new commitment be on the NHS, on such a short timescale?
The Government has elsewhere announced plans for the integration of health and social care. How much is the new pooled budget plan a precursor to that ambition? And/or will conditions be imposed on arrangements for the pooled budget that will set the scene for further organisational integration?
While adult social care is, in some ways, protected by the decision to transfer more NHS resources, local government will see its funding cut by 2.3% over the period. How will LAs cope with that additional pressure?
And in particular:
- What will the impact be on the more preventative and community- based services that other local government departments provide, that can make a significant contribution to lessening the longer-term burdens on health and social care for adults?
- How will LAs cope with any additional pressures arising from the welfare benefits cuts programme, when their resources are under such pressure?
- Does the £335m announced as support for local authorities, in gearing up for the introduction of capped care costs and the universal offer of deferred payments, represent a reasonable calculation of full, longer-term costs?
I can see nothing in the statement that recognises the problems and increased demand issues confronting the children’s services sector. Will LAs be able to protect or expand expenditure in that area? Will they want to, given their already stretched commitments in relation to education? But if they do invest more in children’s services, where will that money come from?
There seems to be some evidence that the troubled families programme is already facing some real challenges. What is likely to be achieved by the extra funding of £200m, announced in the statement? Could it have gone, as usefully, to children’s social services?
The statement makes further announcements on access to welfare benefits. These generally fly under the banner ‘supporting people into work’. Is there another term that could be forced on government that would better represent the additional levels of compulsion and conditionality that lie at the heart of the changes? (This is not an argument against requiring more people to work or seek work, just a fed-upness with calling it ‘support’).
And, on a momentarily lighter note, I would really not want to be the civil servants charged with devising and administering the scheme that will be necessary in relation to the decision on winter fuel payments: “from 2015-16 Winter Fuel Payments will no longer be payable to individuals who live in countries with an average winter temperature higher than the warmest region of the UK.”