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It looked like Christmas came early when Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced a £2 billion windfall for adult social care in his Autumn Statement.
Osborne’s was made possible by the newly-unveiled ‘social care precept’ – an option for UK authorities to raise council tax by two percent, with the money raised going to adult social care.
At first glance, £2 billion sounds like ample amount to paper over the sector’s cracks, and when increased to £3.5 billion after taking the Better Care Fund into account, the picture looks even rosier.
In fact, it exceeds the £2.9 billion figure the Local Government Association and Association of Directors of Adult Social Services predicted would be needed to plug adult social care’s funding gap.
Yet all is not as it seems, and the sector remains disinclined to throw roses at the Chancellor’s feet any time soon.
Indeed, the figure the Chancellor plucked from the air is the most optimistic, maximum figure that can be raised, heavy on crowd-pleasing intent but light on concrete promises.
This is because the social care precept works on a voluntary, opt-in basis, and if a council believes it would be unpopular – as most tax rises are – they can simply choose not to implement it.
For all the Chancellor’s bluster, a good chunk of councils may find themselves in the same utterly identical, still-worsening situation that they were in pre-Autumn Statement.
And even a council were to opt in on the social care precept, the incoming money might not be the magic pill the government is presenting it as, because council tax varies wildly in different areas.
It means that in poorer Northern councils and authorities such as Sunderland and South Tyneside – where the problem is at its most acute – the money raised is comparatively negligible.
Instead of presenting a solution, the Chancellor has been accused by some of merely passing the growing social problem over to local authorities by ridding himself of a central funding issue.
So though a raise in funding is always something to be celebrated, don’t think adult social care is out of the woods yet – there’s still plenty that needs to be done to avert a crisis.
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