Tag Archives: funding

Care funding commission must consider all adults

Here we go again. Today sees the launch of the latest Commission on the Funding of Care and Support (catchy title) for adults.

We’ve been here before, most recently with last year’s Big Care Debate. That got as far as a White Paper before the election, but as soon as the government changed the proposals were swiftly dropped. So we’re back to square one. Again.

Nevertheless, the new commission has been detailed to report back within a year. Health secretary Andrew Lansley expects legislation in front of Parliament next year, and it will eventually form part of a larger White Paper that also takes in the Law Commission’s work on creating a single modern statute for social care, and the Government’s vision for social care.

The commission will focus on:

  • The best way to meet care and support costs as a partnership between individuals and the state
  • How an individual’s assets are protected against the cost of care
  • How public funding for the care and support system can be best used to meet needs
  • How its preferred option can be delivered, including an indication of the timescale for implementation, and its impact on local government (and the local government finance system), the NHS, and – if appropriate – financial regulation.

The politicians have, as usual, made all the right noises about this; for instance, Lansley said; “we must develop a funding system for adult care and support that offers choice, is fair, provides value for money and is sustainable for the public finances in the long term.”

All regulation political guff and nothing that anybody disagrees with; it’s just that successive ministers have said this for some years, so its hard not to feel cynical.

But reading between the lines, service users should not get their hopes up that reform will improve things too much. As care services minister Paul Burstow said: “Trade offs will have to be made but we are determined to build a funding system that is fair, affordable and sustainable.”

Trade offs? Is that a euphemism? To me, that is a subtle way of saying that to get to a solution, some existing ways of being funded may have to be axed/cut back. However, this is just speculation on my part – I may be reading too much into it.

But the commission does take place against the backdrop of swingeing budget cuts and this will form a major spoke in their thinking, hence why a leading economist, Andrew Dilnot, has been chosen to chair it.

He will be assisted by the CQC’s Dame Jo Williams and Lord Norman Warner, a Labour peer and former director of Kent social services – and also an outspoken critic of Gordon Brown’s free personal care at home policy earlier in the year – who will help to ensure that the commission does not just focus on the numbers.

As with the last commission, a range of funding options will be assessed, including a voluntary insurance scheme, as favoured by the Conservatives, and a partnership of state and individual contributions, the Liberal Democrats’ preferred option. No mentions of a compulsory levy – aka Labour’s “Death Tax” – being considered in the press release however, so we can assume that that won’t be an option.

But if this is to be successful the commission has to look at funding care for all adults. One of the criticisms of Labour’s last attempt was that it focused too much on older people – especially the voter-winning solution to people having to sell their houses to pay for care – with people with disabilities sidelined.

While older people do make up a significant proportion of those receiving care services, those with disabilities are just as important and any solution has to appreciate their needs and circumstances as well.

The solution also must been seen to improve – or at the very least not cut – services, if it is to get widespread acceptance from the public. Again, this will require doing more with less – a neat trick if you can pull it off.

But what the commission must do above all is to come up with a conclusion. The Big Care Debate had 3 options, but no one option was significantly ahead of the others. This commission should look at all the options and consult widely with frontline workers and service users before making a decision – and then sticking to it.

Coming up with a solution to funding adult social care is not going to be easy – otherwise it would have been done years ago – but this time it needs to happen. However, while some tough choices will have to be made – the financial situation is inescapable – the option of doing nothing is even worse for service users.

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Children’s social workers warn of increased risk if services are cut

As warnings go, it is a stark one; cut budgets in children’s social work and put vulnerable children at far greater risk of harm.

This is the headline message from a survey by BASW, conducted over the bank holiday weekend.

A massive 96.6% of respondents said they are concerned at the effects any cuts could have on already understaffed and overworked social workers. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs (such as Baby P effect sustained) vacancy rates in children’s social work departments are running nationally at about 10% and since Baby P the number of referrals to them has increased markedly. Any more cuts would exacerbate the situation.

This survey is obviously designed to act as a warning to government and local authority purse-string-holders who are currently scrabbling around trying to make billions of pounds worth of cuts – cut children’s social services at your peril. The more subtle subtext is that they would be effectively to blame if another Baby P occurred.

It’s also something of a pre-emptive strike by BASW; the coalition government hasn’t said much about children’s services yet, other than announcing the scrapping of ContactPoint and supporting the recommendations of the Social Work Task Force, and this has worried many in the sector, who fear that children’s service isn’t a priority and therefore a prime target for cuts.

While this was only a small survey – 151 respondents – and so by no means representative of the national picture, it does give an interesting snapshot of the continuing problems in children’s social work.

For instance, only 5% of child protection social workers say their team is fully staffed with permanent social workers, with more than half (52.5%) saying their team is understaffed by 30% or more and 13.1% saying it is by half or even more than that. More than 63% say that their department is understaffed, even with agency staff – who aren’t ideal because they are often short-term and don’t offer the continuity permanent staff do to vulnerable children.

For those in the sector, this will be nothing new. But that’s not really what matters here; it is whether it makes an impression on those who control the money – and I suspect it won’t. A lot of uncomfortable fiscal decisions will be made in the coming weeks and children’s services may well find its budget squeezed, as will many other sectors who also view their funding as crucial.

I’m not saying I agree with this, but this is what I suspect will happen, and there is little that I can see that can be done to stop it.

If budgets are cut, obviously children’s social workers will continue to do their best, but it stands to reason that it would raise the chances of another tragedy along the lines of Baby P happening – you can’t easily do more with less.

If a tragedy were to occur, it would raise some very challenging questions, not only of the profession, but also of government this time.

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More funding needed for mental health research

While Homer Simpson may have said “people can come up with statistics to prove anything”, there are some occasions when bald numbers do tell their own story. Mental health funding is one of those.

For instance, according to a review by the Medical Research Council, mental health is estimated to cost £77 billion each year in England alone. It accounts for 15% of all disability due to disease and affects 16.7 million people in the UK at any one time. Yet only about 5% – £74 million – of medical research budgets are dedicated to it per year.

Professor Til Wykes from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London hit the nail on the head in a recent BBC piece, saying that mental health research is “incredibly underfunded”

This seems especially so, given that mental health problems affect more people at any one time than cancer or heart disease – both of which receive more funding.

Given the statistics, it is hard to argue with Prof Wykes. Whether this relative lack of funding is down to stigma or the fact that mental health is not a “sexy” illness is debatable, but at least there are moves to challenge the situation.

For example, in its review, the MRC has outlined the priorities for the research community for the next 5-10 years:

  • Focus on the prevention of mental disorders based on better understanding of causes, risk levels and new approaches to early preventive measures
  • Accelerate research and development to provide new, more effective treatments for mental illness, and implement them more rapidly
  • Expand the capacity for research in this area in the UK.

The MRC will work with funding agencies such as the Economic and Social Research Council, the National Institute of Health Research and the Health Departments of the devolved administrations on approaches to take forward these recommendations, but whether more funding will be forthcoming is debatable.

The logic for more funding is hard to argue against – basically, more research would lead to better and more effective ways of preventing and treating mental illness, thus reducing the burden to the country and saving money – but the financial state of the country may dictate what happens.

With the Department of Health looking for savings, research budgets look set to be slashed for many areas of healthcare – although not dementia – so any large increases may be out of the question, although an increase in real terms may be feasible. Whether that is enough is another matter – it may be another case of innovative work having to be done with fewer resources, which could hold back the pace of development – to everyone’s detriment.

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Social care possible victim of government cuts

Chancellor George Osborne announced the first wave of cuts to public spending yesterday, but it is still unclear what this will mean for social care – yet.

Most of the announcement dealt in headline terms – talking about millions of pounds worth of cuts to government departments, but not saying exactly where they will be made.

For instance, councils have been told that they will have to cut £500 million worth of services in the next 10 months. In the absence of concrete details, there is lots of speculation about where these cuts could come – such as in residential and home care for the elderly, according to a report in today’s Times.

This would seem likely – a recent poll for the BBC’s Panorama said that more than half of councils were considering making cuts to adult social care provision.

In practice, it may mean that eligibility criteria gets ramped up again, so that only those with ‘substantial’ or ‘critical’ needs will get services – which already happens in many council areas. Also, services such as day centres may be targeted for cuts, as will any service that struggles to demonstrate it provides value for money.

With budgets needing to be slashed other areas, such as the roll-out of the personalisation agenda, may be hit. There is the £237 million Social Care Reform grant scheduled for this year, and there is speculation that might be cut, according to a report in Community Care.

Meanwhile, children’s services were largely protected from the cuts, except for the abandonment of the Child Trust Fund, which wasn’t that popular anyway.

But this is just educated speculation. I assume the details of the cuts will gradually come out in the next few days and weeks, which should shed more light on what will happen and then councils – and service users – can start to plan for the future.

But what is certain is that these are only the first cuts – and not necessarily the deepest. June’s emergency Budget is expected to announce further spending cuts, while with the Comprehensive Spending Review – which sets out council budgets for the next 3 years – there are fears that council funding could fall off a cliff.

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Uncertainty in social care after election result

So, 3 days on since the election result was announced and we still don’t know who will form the next government. As a result, from a social care perspective, we still don’t know where the future direction of policy will go either.

So, nothing has changed there, then. It’s been like this for months as green papers and white papers have come and gone, with little changing on the ground.

The only certainty, in terms of policy, came with Labour and its plans for a National Care Service, as laid out in April’s White Paper. But many in the sector doubted it would ever make it to fruition, given their standings in the polls.

Indeed, at the time of writing, a Conservative-Liberal coalition is looking possible, which would mean the end of Labour’s ideas; the Conservatives did not sign up to it, and the Liberals rejected several elements of it.  

Their ideas for reforming social care have not been laid out in as much detail as Labour’s, so many are left wondering what will happen.

My hope is that if there is a coalition – be it Conservative-Liberal, Liberal-Labour or some other variation – it will give a chance for a consensus to emerge over future policy direction. If that happens then if there is another election in the near future, there is a chance that the policy might be consistent. But that’s a hope.

More realistically, my guess is that another commission will be formed to review social care and make recommendations from that – although what could be said differently to the results of last year’s Big Care Debate is unclear. The Liberals said they would do this in their manifesto, although the Conservatives are said to be against that as well.

So, as I write, it seems like the only things that are certain are: the social care industry will continue to do its best with the limited resources it has and a funding system that nobody likes – like it has done for years; and that nothing will change that situation in the immediate future.

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General election: let battle commence on social care

Finally, one of the worst-kept secrets in the country is officially announced; the general election will be on May 6.

It has been said by many that adult social care will be one of the crucial points on which the election is fought. If so, this can only be a good thing, but only if the public know exactly what they will be voting for and currently, they don’t.

We know Labour’s plans for the future of adult social care; they were in last week’s White Paper. They have outlined plans for a National Care Service, along the lines of the NHS. How it would be paid for is still unclear – but don’t let practical details get in the way of a good policy.

But as for the other main 2 parties – and, in the interests of balance, all the minority parties as well – we know that they don’t think much of Labour’s ideas, but other than that, we know very little about their plans.

The Conservatives have been plugging away with its £8,000 voluntary insurance scheme for paying for elderly care. However, those in the know in the sector don’t believe that this will come up with enough to cover the costs. The Tories disagree. Other than that, we know they favour telecare and a national system of assessment and eligibility for care, and that’s about it.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats want to find cross-party consensus on the way forward in social care, as was being discussed in secret by health ministers earlier this year before Andrew Landsley blew the lid on the meetings. They also want yet another commission to investigate possible ways forward, and have said they would spend £420 million to give carer’s an extra week’s respite – as long as they care for more than 50 hours per week.

I haven’t heard much from any of the minority parties on social care – if anybody knows more, please leave a comment below.

But all this shows that we do not have a full debate on social care – that can only be achieved when others announce their policies and can be analysed objectively against the others.

That is the challenge now for the Conservatives and Liberals – show us your plans and let us decide which way forward is the best for social care.

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White Paper reflections

It is now a day since the White Paper came out, and the response from the media, social care organisations and rival political parties has been quick and, in the main, fairly critical.

The White Paper was given short shrift by most of the mainstream media. While its aims of creating a National Care Service were seen as laudable, many focused on the delays to making changes, how it would be paid for – and by whom – and the lingering “Death Tax”.

Those that gave the White Paper the most enthusiastic welcome tended to be the organisations that are government-backed. To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, well, they would, wouldn’t they?

Charities and third sector organisations seem to have generally given the White Paper a good welcome, but again question where the money will come from for it.

Meanwhile, think tank the King’s Fund – an advocate of the partnership approach before the paper came out – welcomed the ‘ambitious’ plan, but questioned where the money to do it would come from, calling for detailed proposals urgently.

I reckon the King’s Fund was spot-on.

Now I’ve had time to reflect, it seems clearer that the White Paper has been geared to the election – it is big on ideas, but short on detail. Style over substance, if you will.

I really like the idea of the National Care Service – its aims are laudable and it is something to be aspired to. In an ideal world it would be here already.

But – and it’s a big but – I cannot work out how it would be paid for, without having to raise taxes, impose compulsory levies on the public or take money from other budgets. Nether, I suspect, judging by the content of the paper, do the government.

Also, given that the original aim of its preceding green paper was to address the funding of adult social care – with the hope that it would get rid of the current means-testing system – it has singularly failed to do it.

Indeed, the whole question of funding was fudged, with a call for another commission to be set up to investigate the best ways. Evidently the government didn’t want to be associated with any new taxes before the election, so has kicked it into the next parliament.

As a result, the system will creak on, as it has done for years, hated by many. A chance for genuine – and needed – reform of the funding system has been lost, sacrificed at the altar of electioneering.

For me, that clouds all the good ideas contained in the White Paper.

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