London’s diverse and expanding population is part of the mix of
pressures overstretching the capital’s public services.
Since the 1991 census, London’s population has risen by almost half
a million – and it is continually growing.
With the capital already facing a more intense combination of daily
challenges than any other part of the country, local authorities
are facing difficult decisions about how to target funding to
provide the most effective support and services.
Nowhere is this more evident than in London’s social services
departments which provide support to 10,400 children, 45,000
destitute asylum seekers and thousands of other vulnerable
Providing this support is even more challenging when you consider
that two-thirds of the UK’s most deprived council housing estates
and three of England’s five most deprived boroughs are in London.
The capital also has the highest rate of child poverty in the UK,
with nearly half the children in inner London secondary schools
qualifying for free meals.
To try to meet the capital’s high level of need social services
departments spend far more per head than councils in other parts of
the UK. In 2000-1 London spent £2.1bn on social services –
more than £300m above government funding.
The private and independent sectors share high service costs with
the boroughs – providing residential care to older people is
£50 a week more expensive in London than in the rest of the
country. Many boroughs also face staff recruitment and retention
difficulties. Up to 25 per cent of key staff needed for essential
child protection duties are made up of agency workers.
London has the highest rate of mental health admissions to NHS
hospitals. Department of Health figures for 2000-1, which set out
formal admissions to NHS and private facilities under the Mental
Health Act 1983 by Regional Office Area, show that in the capital
there are 158 admissions per 100,000 population. The next highest
rate is in the North West, with 99 per 100,000 population. The
national rate is 91 per 100,000 population.
The current allocation of government funding does not provide
adequate resources to London as it does not reflect the diverse
needs and the higher numbers of users compared with the rest of the
country. However, many of the proposed new formulae being
considered as part of the government’s review of local government
funding may make things worse by reducing London’s share of funding
by up to £140m.
To work well, funding for social services would need to take
account of measures of deprivation, high mobility and the diversity
that brings additional demands on boroughs. The proposed social
services formulae fail to do this because they fail to identify
factors that lead to higher spending or higher client
Although in other areas robust proposals to alter the local
government funding formulae have been put forward, in social
services the proposals are flawed. There must be something wrong
with a proposal which aims to increase funding to meet the cost of
placing more children from ethnic minority groups for adoption but
results in a loss of resources to the areas where those children
and potential carers live.
Working alongside the NHS is crucial. Hospitals and social services
in London are working hard to meet targets to reduce delayed
discharges from hospitals. Reducing financial support for social
services at such a time would have grave implications for social
services and have a knock-on effect for the NHS.
Our aim in London is to build the infrastructure of social care.
That way NHS costs can be used to reduce waiting lists. Boroughs
can ensure that older people are supported at home and that people
with mental illnesses and drug users are safe and supported in the
community. Investment in children’s services is vital.
This is not the time to introduce new, unproven formulae for social
services finances. Boroughs need additional finance so they can
deliver the social care that is needed and deliver the promise of a
better future for London’s vulnerable adults and children.
The government is looking to allocate additional resources to the
NHS and social care. This extra funding will be welcome, if it is
directed to where it is needed. However, the new social services
funding models do not do this and, if they are introduced, the loss
of money is likely to make things worse for the capital.
Stephen Burke is chairperson of the Association of
London Government’s health and social services panel. He is also a
councillor at Hammersmith and Fulham Council. The ALG is a lobbying
and think tank body dedicated to improving life in