While we are now all too familiar with the perilous state of the social care system, the latest report from Age UK makes for sobering reading. It estimates that as many as 1.2 million people aged 65 or above – equivalent to roughly one in eight – are not receiving the support they require for vital daily activities such as eating, bathing and dressing. This new figure represents a startling 17.9% rise from the previous year, with the number of those without access to the support and care they need almost doubling since 2010.
The report suggests that the dire warnings and predictions we have become accustomed to in recent times have now become a reality. Indeed, it is now abundantly clear that the social care crisis is already upon us. When the basic human needs of the most vulnerable are so wilfully neglected, we can no longer claim to be a caring or compassionate society.
The report also reveals the vast sums of money that are needed to plug the funding gap, estimating that an extra £4.9bn is required to ensure those with one or more unmet need, receive the care they require. To put this into perspective, the government’s recent policy which allows councils to raise council tax by an additional 3% is expected to raise just £543m in additional revenue. In a sign of how desperate the situation has become, many councils have been forced to cut other vital services including child care, road repairs and libraries in an effort to maintain current levels of care.
As if matters could not get any worse, a new threat has emerged that could exacerbate the crisis in certain regions. In the most recently proposed reforms to business rates, local authorities will be able to keep the extra revenue they collect each year. But while the new policy surrounding business rates has been designed to incentivise local councils to grow their economies, for those that are unable to raise additional revenue – likely the vast majority – they are likely to face a further hole in their finances.
At a time when the system is already in deep crisis, the government should ensure that any additional revenue generated through the business rates reforms is ring fenced for social care, and distributed to where it is most needed. With millions of elderly people already struggling without adequate care, we simply cannot afford for the government to make matters worse.
With a referendum in Surrey on plans to raise council tax by 15%, it looked for a time as though we might see more localised funding solutions, with other councils indicating they might do the same. Since then, however, councils have backed away from the idea, and the Prime Minister’s controversial intervention meant the Surrey referendum was also cancelled. Looking ahead to the spring budget in March, it is therefore clear that if the social care crisis is to be addressed, it is the central government who will need to find a long term funding solution.