Last in spending round

At the same time as scaling back his economic forecasts, the chancellor also took the opportunity this week to trim his public spending commitments. Long before Monday’s pre-budget statement Gordon Brown had made it clear that the main beneficiaries of public sector growth up to 2008 would be education and health, whose budgets continue to grow between 4 to 5 per cent a year. Compared with these, social care was always going to be a poor relation, but just how poor became clearer in his Commons speech.

Details of the local government finance settlement, issued simultaneously, show that social services spending in many areas could rise by as little as 2 per cent next year and 2.7 per cent the year after that. After 2008, when overall public spending is only expected to rise by 2 per cent annually, social services’ predicament looks even more bleak. The government implied that councils with education and social services would do better thanks to bigger increases in schools funding, somewhat disingenuous given that this money is ring-fenced for schools with their narrow academic priorities. Meanwhile, the police and district councils without social services responsibilities are assured of higher percentage increases than their social services counterparts.

Social services leaders have recently called for more money, but this financial settlement and the chancellor’s public spending predictions will do little to answer their concerns. An accompanying document, Support for Parents, puts the emphasis once again on prevention, with the promise of school-based outreach, budget-holding lead professionals and more mentoring for looked-after children. While much of this is being piloted in only a few councils, the prevention agenda is still hugely expensive. On the older people’s side of the fence care services minister Liam Byrne now admits it may take “one or two” comprehensive spending reviews to get fully to grips with it – and the proposed public spending settlements give scant recognition to the fact.

Health and education may, eventually, be persuaded to bring their priorities more in line with those of social services. Joint commissioning could switch some health budgets away from acute services into community-based preventive work, while a fully inclusive education system would bring about a corresponding shift. But it will take time and that, for social services, is in short supply.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.