THE BLOG

Council Tax Rise Alone Won't Save Social Care, Mr Osborne

23/11/2015 10:11 GMT | Updated 22/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Carol Vorderman I'm not, however even as a kid I understood that when my dad gave me my five pound pocket money on a Saturday morning, just like he did every Saturday, that I was likely to get a fiver next weekend too. (Well, as long as I wasn't grounded again.)

But if my dad had stood up on the TV and made a big song and dance of the fact that he would be giving me another five pounds this coming Saturday, I would have been confused and underwhelmed.

I was left similarly bemused this Saturday morning, with the Chancellor George Osborne and his solution to the care crisis.

It is now expected that Mr Osborne will announce in the Comprehensive Spending Review this Wednesday that local council's will be allowed to raise their council tax by up to 2% to fund the increasing cost of social care.

Sounds good. It sounds like the Chancellor has heeded the warnings sent to him from the Care and Support Alliance, NHS England, the NHS Confederation and many other bodies intimately involved in the care sector, urging him to act in the Spending Review.

However, the Chancellor is actually only going to reiterate an existing government policy on council tax and offer guidance on how councillors should spend the money.

Of course, councils can already raise council tax by 1.99% without going to referendum, and many are going to need to do this simply in order to make ends meet with their ever diminishing settlement.

In an era where the buzz word in Whitehall is 'devolution' it would be counterproductive for any senior government minister to be seen to be dictating to council's about what they can and can't spend extra money raised on.

It is why the alarm bells are ringing. How exactly is the Chancellor's social care funding solution going to be enforced? Is the Chancellor advocating a 2% rise in council tax over and above any rise an authority is already planning? Are we to expect council's to raises council tax by as much as 4% in the New Year?

We already appreciate that each Local Authority is facing very different and individual challenges. For instance, some are facing huge issues with anti-social behaviour and with cuts expected in the police, there will be a greater demand from the public on council's to take tougher action against noisy neighbours. For other authorities, it's about keeping the streetlights on 24/7 or the library open in order to meet their statutory requirement.

In other words, the Chancellor may like every council to raise council tax by 2% in order to pay for social care but the reality is there is absolutely no guarantee that the monies raised will be spent, in their entirety (if at all), on increase care provision for vulnerable disabled and older people.

It could be argued that this is smoke and mirrors. Some will say the Chancellor is robbing Peter to pay Paul. The simple truth is that if this announcement is all that can be expected by way of financial support for a care system already mired in crisis, then Chancellor will have signalled his intention to do nowhere near enough.

I say this because it's a policy laden with 'ifs'. even if council's were to raise council tax by 2% in every year of this parliament and even if every single one of them agreed to spend every penny of extra monies raised on social care, it would only generate £2billion for social care over the life of this parliament.

Again, it sounds like a lot, but care providers are agreed, the figure needed from the government immediately, is £6billion. It's a figure that would offer a short term solution to a long term problem for governments to come. This figure is in fact the amount of money the Chancellor was planning to invest in social care by 2020 before he deferred the implementation of the care cap in July. It means that there is an unallocated £6billion floating around Whitehall and we want to know where it is and where it's going.

And this matters for people across all towns, cities, counties and regions of England because it is also a fact that the need for social care is higher in areas with higher levels of economic deprivation.

We know that parts of the North East and the North West have experienced the largest average cuts to spending per person since May 2010, which has in turn squeezed the fees paid to care providers. The government's intended solution will do little to nothing to support these local authorities and the vulnerable older and disabled people and their carers who live in these areas. Unless the government recognises the full scale crisis in social care and the considerable policy changes that are needed to alleviate the problems in certain regions of England there will be some parts of the country where care providers won't be able to afford to provide care.

I don't profess to be a world-leading economist. But it doesn't take a Nobel Peace Prize in mathematics to see that these proposals to solve the care crisis just don't add up and won't come close to plugging the gap.

The government must take drastic action in this week's Comprehensive Spending Review to address the fiscal gaps in the social care system and not just play at the edges. A failure to do that will mean that for millions of families like yours and mine, we will face the reality over the next five years of more and more of our loved ones not being able to do simple day-to-day tasks that we take for granted such as help washing themselves, getting dressed or even getting out of bed. Imagine a world where they didn't receive the care, the lifeline, they desperately needed.

This is the Government's last chance to fix social care once and for all to make sure this nightmare scenario doesn't happen for families across England over the next few years.

Otherwise, come Wednesday, Mr Osborne will be the first to wish many older and disabled people across the country in need of care a very unhappy New Year.

Vicky McDermott

Chair, Care and Support Alliance

CEO of Papworth Trust