The majority of eligible councils look set to make use of freedoms to increase tax levels to help pay for social care in order to bolster cash-strapped services, early indications suggest.
Under current government rules, during the next financial year, councils that provide social care to adults may increase council tax by up to an additional 2% compared with 2016-17 levels.
“Services supporting the elderly and disabled are at breaking point”
The extra charge, called the “adult social care precept”, was introduced by former chancellor George Osborne last year and is ring-fenced to help fund care for older people and disabled people.
Nursing Times’ sister title Local Government Chronicle has obtained 2017-18 council tax proposals for a quarter of top-tier councils, covering every region of the country. All are planning to make use of the social care precept.
However, the Local Government Association said the additional funds raised via the precept would not cover the cost pressures, such as rising demand and the national minimum wage.
Claire Kober, chair of the Local Government Association’s resources board, said: “Social care faces a funding gap of at least £2.6bn by 2020, even if every council makes full use of their current flexibility to increase council tax until the end of the decade.
“This means council tax rises are unlikely to prevent the need for continued cutbacks to social care services and avoid consequences around the quality and availability of care for older and disabled people,” she said.
“We need a national debate about these issues if we are to deal with the tsunami of issues”
Many authorities are yet to publish details of their council tax plans ahead of the 2017-18 local government finance settlement, which is now expected next week.
It follows the government’s autumn statement, which delivered no additional funding for health and social care.
Ms Kober added: “Services supporting the elderly and disabled are at breaking point. It cannot be left to council taxpayers alone to try and fix them.
“Only genuinely new additional government funding for social care will give councils any chance of protecting the services caring for our elderly and disabled,” she said.
The BBC and the Times today reported that the government was planning to extend the social care precept in future years as a mechanism for bringing in more funding to social care.
Commentators welcomed moves to shore up the struggling social care sector but called for a more long-term funding solution than the 2% council tax increase.
Richard Humphries, assistant director of policy at the King’s Fund think-tank, said: “The increasingly threadbare nature of the social care safety net is taking an unacceptable toll on older people, their families and their carers.
“Allowing local authorities to raise council tax would provide some welcome extra funding, but our analysis shows this would raise only a relatively small amount of money and would widen existing inequalities as less affluent areas are able to raise less,” he said.
He added: “Even if there is more funding for social care in the short term, there would still be an urgent need for a cross-party debate on how we sustainably fund health and social care in the future.”
Alan Milburn, former Labour health secretary and chair of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ health industries oversight board, said: “It is welcome that the government is looking at how to properly resource social care.
“A long-term funding solution is needed alongside a reform plan to integrate health and social care,” he said.
But Richard Kemp, Liberal Democrat spokesman for health and social care at the LGA, criticised the idea of dealing with the funding care funding crisis through an increase in council tax.
He said: “The 2% increase in council tax this year brought in about £360m nationally and still leaves a predicted gap of £2.2bn by 2020.
“This would suggest that council tax would need to increase by about 14% to deal with this problem ignoring any other inflationary problems faced by any provider of services,” he said.
“We need a national debate about these issues if we are to deal with the tsunami of issues coming from our increasing longevity,” he added.