By Rosalind Hughes, founder, Just Caring Legal
For ten years government promises to reform care funding, ending savage cuts to social care, have come to nothing. The Chancellor presented last week’s Budget without even any mention of the inadequate, unfair and unsustainable care system. Meanwhile, central government continues to starve councils of the cash they need to fulfil their care obligations.
Cuts to social care have become a way of life
Councils have had to navigate the decade of austerity by removing and rationing frontline services. They have relied – often unlawfully – on families’ cash to top up underfunded care packages for the most needy. Many have justified allocating budgets far below the costs of care on “affordability” grounds. And they have been quick to assess people’s ability to fund their own care without assessing whether they should even be paying for care in the first place.
The end of austerity? Not so you’d notice
Now a new survey of local authorities from the government spending watchdog says things are going to get worse rather than better. A staggering 94% of single tier and county councils expect to reduce service budgets for 2021-22. The National Audit Office says many councils admit these will have “direct and immediate effects on service users”. So much for the end of austerity.
There is no denying that the enormous costs of the pandemic, some of which have come out of councils’ own budgets, have left deep financial scars. These are on top of the many cuts to council funding over the past decade. Unless something drastic is done, our most vulnerable citizens will feel the chronic pain of all this for years to come.
Are we still willing to accept that decent care is “unaffordable”?
But a year of Covid-19 has also altered our conversations about care. With death and disease a daily reality, many families have had to think hard about what it is their most vulnerable members deserve and need. And central government has finally demonstrated its ability to find money for essential services when lives depend on it. So will we any longer be willing to accept the argument that a decent, humane and dignified standard of care for all who need it is simply unaffordable? That’s something we as a society will have to decide.