On Tuesday Liverpool MP Louise Ellman secured a Westminster Hall debate on Social Care in Liverpool. The debate is timely coming just before the Conservatives announce their spring budget, a budget that will no doubt cut more money from council budgets across the UK.
Louise set out with great clarity the situation facing Liverpool and other local authorities across the Liverpool City Region as it seeks to set a lawful budget whilst desperately trying to keep the public services upon which people depend going.
Since 2010 the LibDem Tory Coalition and the Tory Government Liverpool City Council has had to cut £420 million from its budget, a staggering 68% of all its resource. The Council is having to find another £90million of Tory imposed cuts over the next three year period.
Liverpool raised £147m in Council Tax in 2016/17 but it spent £151m on adult social care. Liverpool is having to spend more than it can raise in Council tax on adult social care alone, a shocking statistic. To try and close the funding gap the Council have been forced to cut adult social care by £92m since 2010 but the demand for help has increased by 15%. This fact translates beyond mere figures into thousands of people affected every day of their lives by not getting the level of help and support they need and deserve.
The demand for social care assessments in Liverpool has risen from 18,000 a year in 2010 to 21,000 a year now. Hardly surprising given our ageing population – but the capacity of Liverpool City Council to meet those growing demands has been severely curtailed by the Governments ideology of never-ending cuts in public service provision.
In the Budget proposed by Liverpool City Council, a 4.99% Council tax increase is reluctantly proposed. In Liverpool, a 1% increase in in Council Tax raises £1.4m but a 1% decrease in Government funding costs the Council £3m. So it is clear that increasing the Council tax is not adequate to plug the gap. It is simply not good enough for the Government to repeat their mantra that there should be efficiency savings. Once the cut is approaching 70% of all resource, it is not credible to say that the shortfall can be made up by efficiency savings.
My Constituency of Garston and Halewood also covers part of the Knowsley Metropolitan Borough and they are facing a similar problem. They are a smaller authority but their financial challenges, thanks to this Government and the LibDem Tory Coalition are just as severe.
On a revenue currently of £148m, they have had to make cuts of £86m since 2010 and are having to find a further £17m over the next three years. With a total loss of over £100m for a small authority, both Liverpool and Knowsley MBC are amongst the top 5 hardest hit local authorities in the Country. Knowsley’s income will have been cut by 56%.
Knowsley raised £43.23m in Council tax in 2016/17 yet they spent £47.19m on adult social care. Just like in Liverpool, Knowsley spent more on adult social care alone than it was able to raise in Council tax this year. The pressures on the social care budget are huge. In Knowsley they are expecting to face additional pressures of £10m in the next three years in adult social care alone.
They too, look set to agree an increase in Council tax of 4.99% with 3% ring-fenced for adult social care. Bear in mind that this is the first increase for five years and that both in Knowsley and Liverpool, there has been a reluctance to increase Council Tax because many people are finding it hard to make ends meet without having to pay bigger bills, but the Government have left them with no choice.
In Knowsley, the 3% precept will generate £1.9m a year, a total of £3.8m over the three year period. That will pay for only just over a third of the pressures that are expected in the adult social care budget alone. There will be some additional monies that come through the Improved Better Care Fund. There is to be a one off allocation through the Adult Social Care Fund of less than £1m but that has to be spent on one-off projects. None of this will meet the pressures that are apparent now.
Unfortunately, Government action elsewhere means that these pressure could easily be even worse than projected. Our ageing population is putting greater pressures on our NHS hospitals and acute services. The Government’s never-ending austerity mania, coupled with real term reductions in resource for the NHS over the next few years means that our NHS services too are coming under enormous pressure to cut back services.
Soon the Cheshire and Merseyside Sustainability and Transformation plans will be implemented. The plans were originally meant to improve NHS services but have instead become the place to cut budgets and cut services - £22billion in all. The Cheshire and Merseyside STP aims to offset £908m of financial pressures on the local NHS by 2020 to meet their own reducing budgets.
It looks to make savings in NHS budgets by closing, merging and changing services. So, at Whiston, there were plans to reduce the opening hours at A&E, along with those at Southport and Warrington hospitals. All of these plans have had no public consultation at all.
In Knowsley, there has been no engagement with the Council, the level of engagement is so non-existent that the Council does not consider that there has been any consultation and does not support any of the proposals.
In Liverpool, the plans to merge trusts and in particular to close the Women’s hospital have been met with similar outrage, there has been no consultation and no attempt by the NHS to engage with the Council.
Yet the fact that the STP envisages Councils taking more of the strain in the community whilst not consulting them about their wishes or capabilities and leaving Council’s alienated does not bode well for the future collaboration that is envisaged.
The budget on Wednesday gives the Chancellor a chance to tackle some of these problems with vigour, but if all the Government briefing in the newspapers is to be believed, he won’t take that chance.
He is reported to be going to announce an emergency fund of £1.3billion to tackle the social care crisis. Firstly, that is only half the £2.6billion spending gap that the LGA estimates will be reached by 2020. Secondly, he appears to be going to direct it at schemes that aim to tackle bed-blocking.
Knowsley will not benefit from such money because they have tackled that problem already. They are now to be punished for their efficiency whilst authorities that have not tackled it get rewarded for their inefficiency.
Secondly, the Chancellor is apparently going to establish another long term review of social care funding. Whilst this is to be welcomed, it does nothing to tackle the problem Liverpool and Knowsley are facing now.
So, we will see. Meanwhile, the social care crisis in Liverpool and Knowsley worsens and the Government simply passes the buck, plays politics and offers no leadership. Such, I am afraid, we have come to expect from this Government.