To hear Gordon Brown talk you’d think we’d never had it so good. He
assures us we are experiencing “the longest sustained investment in
public services for a generation”. No doubt that’s true, but it
doesn’t always feel that way.
In his spending review this week, the chancellor mentioned the
words “front line” at least half a dozen times in the first few
minutes of his speech. But close scrutiny of his announcements
suggests there is little cause for celebration among those at the
sharp end of social care.
This time round, housing and the NHS appear to have won in the
spending review, while civil servants and staff who throw sickies
emerge among the losers. As for social services, if you believe Mr
Brown it is up there on the winners’ podium with plans for a 2.7
per cent rise in real terms. That’s all well and good until you
compare it with the 7.1 per cent increase he came up with for the
NHS, which makes it look rather paltry.
The extra funding is billed as a boost for community care for older
people, although it’s not immediately clear how this will work. No
doubt those older people who receive the new care alarms Mr Brown
is promising will be delighted with them, especially if it means
they can stay in their own homes. And the separate announcement of
extra help for heating costs will also be welcomed. But what
happens when a local authority faces the choice of raising council
tax or cutting services to stay within budget?
Either course would have an adverse effect on older people, many of
whom are already denied the low-level social care services that
could help them maintain independent lives for longer.
Local councillors are already voicing their disappointment at the
level of the settlement and are warning that tough decisions will
have to be made and that “something’s got to give”. Unfortunately,
experience tends to show that “something” is usually services for
the most vulnerable, and in particular for older people.