The Simon Heng Column

Last week, Gordon Brown’s pre-budget statement told us that the UK economy was doing so well that he could afford to  increase public spending. The highlight is to be a £36bn, four-year increase in the education budget. In the past 10 years, the NHS has also enjoyed a 90 per cent increase in funding.

In all of this time, Brown has managed to ignore the developing crisis in social care funding, highlighted by a letter to The Guardian, signed by 45 council leaders, describing care services for older people as “teetering on the brink”. It’s not just older people’s care that has become tightly rationed, but all adult services.

Many local authorities have had to reduce, or abandon support for anyone whose needs are deemed to be low or moderate, and have had to find ways to tighten eligibility criteria for people whose needs are critical or substantial. Even so, 6 per cent more care was delivered last year, while many authorities received only a 2 per cent increase in funding.

What is wrong with increasing efficiency in the use of public funds, delivering more care for less money? Nothing, up to a point.

But as any social work student will tell you, early intervention often prevents a crisis, enabling people to maintain their independence, reducing the likelihood of needs becoming critical, or substantial – and more expensive in the long run.

Just as importantly, it leaves many disabled people, including older people, whose needs fall just short of the eligibility criteria, struggling with day-to-day existence and increasingly socially isolated. How can you measure this in terms of human drudgery, for the elderly, disabled, their carers and families, now and in the future? Derek Wanless’s report for the King’s Fund recommended an increase of £1bn to cope with the increased demand in older people’s care: that’s less than a 10th of the proposed annual increase in education spending. Aren’t the people we love worth at least that?

Poverty, deprivation and social exclusion. Aren’t these government targets? Merry Christmas? Bah humbug, Gordon Brown.


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