As a Surrey resident working for Age UK, I felt quite confused and conflicted about how to vote in the prospective local referendum on a 15% council tax rise. On one hand, I really wasn’t happy about a huge hike in my bills but on the other hand through my work I am acutely aware of the enormous funding gap that has opened up in recent years between social care budgets and the growing number of people needing care and support. I felt grudgingly supportive of the leader of Surrey Council, David Hodge’s radical stance but not desperately keen on his solution.
Sweetheart deal or not, Surrey council withdrew the threat of the unprecedented council tax rise and I am no longer facing this dilemma. It seems David Hodge was placated by the plans announced by the Chancellor in last week’s budget. Philip Hammond, the chancellor, announced a funding package for social care that amounts to £1 billion in the next financial year and a further billion pounds over the next two years. There’s no doubt this is a huge sum of money but whether it is sufficient to prop up a system on its knees is not clear.
Whilst this cash injection was vital, and the Chancellor deserves credit for finally facing up to the chorus of concern from Age UK and our colleagues in the voluntary sector, from care home providers and local authorities, the really crucial announcement last week was the promise of a green paper to be published later this year which will lay out options for the future funding of care. We desperately need a social care system which delivers reliable high quality care to us when we need it.
The solution to this complex and huge financial question needs to be agreed by all of us, led by government. We need to agree a settlement which will involve individuals and government planning realistically to fund a decent system of care which is fair and sustainable over the long term. Not a patchwork of short term injections of cash from central government and a series of referendums led by desperate local authorities trying to plug their funding gaps.
A succession of Prime Ministers and governments have looked the other way and filed social care away in the ‘too difficult’ or ‘ too expensive’ pile. But the buck has stopped with Theresa May and we look forward to working with her government to finally find an answer to a question which is too big and too important to be ignored.