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Social care spending rises for first time in five years

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Council spending on adult social care increased by £556m in 2016-17, representing the first real term rise in five years, new figures show.

The Adult Social Care Activity and Finance Report, published today by NHS Digital, recorded a 3.3% increase in overall social care spending this year compared to 2015-16 and a 1% annual rise in real terms.

“There is a large amount of variation in year-on-year spending among councils”

NHS Digital

The ability of councils to raise the council tax social care precept by 2% for the first time raised an additional £382m.

But the report found that there has been “minimal change” in social care activity and said this could be due to the increasing costs of provision. The number of requests to councils for support grew by 0.2% to 1.8m.

The report said 58 in 1,000 people aged over 65 and nine in 1,000 people aged 18-65 received long-term support. A total of 868,000 people received social care, a decrease of 4,000 on last year.

Councils reported factors such as the introduction of the national living wage and an increase in support for people with complex needs as reasons for the rise in expenditure.

The report found the average weekly cost of residential care for a person over 65 rose from £549 to £565 this year, while the weekly cost of nursing care for the same group increased to £606 from £563.

The average weekly cost of nursing care for adults under 65 rose to £911 from £871 and residential care increased to £1,236 from £1,205.

NHS Digital said there are large variations in year-on-year spending among councils. A total of 10 of the 151 councils reported cash terms increases of more than 10%, while four councils reported increases of more than 20%. But 42 councils reported a decrease in expenditure on social care.

Responding to the figures, Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare system, said: “No one can take any comfort from this. In real terms and in the real world this is a tiny increase to a budget that is woeful.

“The reality is that thousands of vulnerable people are not receiving the support they need and the health service is every day being placed under intolerable pressure as a result,” he said. “The government has promised to put this right and it is now time for them to get on with that.”

Linda Thomas, vice chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said the increase in demand and cost for services was “only adding to the huge pressure” that councils were under to keeping people at home living independently in the community, and out of hospital.

“Social care faces an annual funding gap of £2.3bn by 2020,” she said. “It is vital that the government sets out in the autumn budget how it will address the social care crisis and deliver long-lasting reform that meets the needs of adults of all ages needing social care.

“The social care council tax precept and the £2bn announced for social care in the spring budget were steps in the right direction but these one-off measures are by no means adequate in securing a long-term sustainable funding solution,” said Ms Thomas.

“Councils also need to be given the freedom and flexibility to invest in social care where it is most needed if the money is to be effective,” she added.

Chancellor Philip Hammond is due to deliver his autumn budget on 22 November.

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