Extra money, but who is going to gain?

Many vulnerable people have little to cheer about from Gordon
Brown’s pre-election largesse, although families with a working
parent have done well, reports Ruth Winchester.

Chancellor Gordon Brown’s Budget, his last before the general
election, might have raised the odd cheer among drivers and,
perhaps, drinkers, but what’s in it for social care?

On the face of it, there seems to be an awful lot of money
sloshing around for public services – more than £2 billion, in
fact. But over the past week there have been the usual mutterings
about the chancellor using sleight of hand to make his spending
plans appear more generous than they actually are.

Much of the new money is spread out over a three-year period,
with the lion’s share of funding not arriving until April 2003.
There has also been talk along familiar “give with one hand…”
lines, and comment about money being announced more than once.

Despite these misgivings, there is no doubt that this Budget has
included significant increases in spending on some key government
priorities. Brown has allocated £1 billion each for health and
education over the coming three years, significant investment that
would have been difficult to announce twice.

More than £300 million has also been allocated to help
communities fight drug problems, and a fund is being set up to
invest in the recruitment and retention of key health service
staff. Whether this includes social care staff is unclear.

Directors of social services have given the Budget a cautious
welcome. Brian Parrott is chairperson of the resources committee
for the Association of Directors of Social Services. He welcomes
the moves to improve the situation of families on low incomes, but
says some of the investment in health should find its way to social

“We are interested in the extra £835 million for the NHS
over three years, especially the part of it which links to staff
recruitment. There is some common ground here between this extra
money and the extra money for schools, including teacher

Parrott adds:”We will be interested to see whether within the
allocation to health – or indeed elsewhere – there is anything for
social care, either social worker recruitment and retention issues
and costs, or to address the issues in 2001-2 budgets, including
continuing pressures on social services budgets.”

Parrott says the increase in the national minimum wage is
welcome in terms of its impact on low pay, but adds a note of
caution. “For many local authorities, particularly in low pay
areas, it may mean higher costs, especially in purchasing and
providing residential and domiciliary care services.”

Of all groups, families with children have been the clear
winners in the Budget. Maternity and paternity leave and pay have
both been increased, and paid parental leave has been introduced
for adoptive parents. But if the government’s commitment to
improving the lot of poorer families is clear, so too is its
determination to target the most assistance at those in work.

Increases in out-of-work benefits are extremely limited –
instead the chancellor’s generosity has taken the form of complex
tax breaks and benefits for those in work. In fact, critics
suggest, families may need an accountant to make sense of their
convoluted entitlements.

Despite the cynicism, the Budget has been welcomed by groups
such as the Low Pay Unit, Child Poverty Action Group and family
welfare organisations. Helen Dent, chief executive of the Family
Welfare Association, said she felt positive about the measures for
families on low wages, although she acknowledged that the Budget
focused almost exclusively on those in low paid work, rather than
those on benefit.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” she insisted. “We are
starting to see some very realistic sums, particularly for child
care, which will enable women to work if they want to.”

But Dent echoed the concerns of many observers on the
introduction of regular job search interviews for lone parents on
benefit with children under five. She said: “I think the
government’s on a bit of a witch hunt about people going back to
work, and I think there is concern about support available to those
not in work.

“The problem with giving [job seeker] interviews to lone parents
is that it puts them under tremendous pressure and can cause a lot
of anxiety. Many parents of very young children will have made an
active decision not to work while their children are small, some
may have recently split up with their partner and they want to be a
stable influence in their child’s life at that time. The government
can’t say it supports the bond between parent and child, and then
expect them to be straight back at work once their 26 weeks
[maternity leave] are over.”

The chancellor has also allocated an unprecedented amount of
money – some £335 million – for drugs and drug-related crime,
broken down into £70 million this year followed by £110
million in 2002, and £155 million during 2003.

This large sum has been warmly welcomed by drug agencies,
although the prospect of millions flooding in as convicted drug
dealers start to have their assets confiscated probably made the
investment less difficult to sell to the Treasury.

Roger Howard is chief executive of national drugs agency,
Drugscope. He welcomed the Budget’s fresh investment and said: “The
money is basically for policing local drugs markets. It is
extremely welcome, assuming it is absolutely brand new money,
because it doubles that made available in last year’s comprehensive
spending review.

“As for tackling local drugs markets, many communities have been
severely damaged by dealing and there have been some modest
successes using this approach, so it is evidence -based. But there
is still not enough money being spent on reintegration into the
community for people leaving prison or leaving drug rehab

Howard describes the £40 million for ex-addicts as very
welcome but says the government’s insistence that people have got
to be off drugs altogether before they can benefit from this cash
is unrealistic. “We need new ways to provide training and
employment to drug users, such as re-entry programmes. A lot of
people in this position will have been using drugs for scores of

As for pensioners, another high-profile group, the Budget was a
bit of a mixed bag. The basic state pension will rise by £5
per week this year, followed by another £3 in 2002, the free
TV licence and winter payments are sustained, and there have been a
number of changes to personal allowances and minimum income
guarantee levels.

But, according to a spokesperson for Age Concern, although the
government’s intention is obviously to lift the poorest pensioners
out of poverty, there is little in the Budget to improve the
situation for many. “The chancellor has increased the basic state
pension, and he’s the first chancellor to do that for a long time.
But he’s sending a clear message that the poorest pensioners will
have to look to the means-tested benefits system to lift them out
of poverty.

The spokesperson says that the increase in capital thresholds
whereby older people can have up to £6,000 in savings before
means-testing starts means that more than 100,000 older people will
be entitled to income support who weren’t before. “And,” she says
“many more are going to benefit as a result of the pensioner

Age Concern argues that means-testing brings a whole raft of
problems for people who have contributed to national insurance all
their lives. The spokesperson says:”The means testing system is
costly and complex, it’s very off-putting for some people, and it
means they will have the state constantly interfering in their
personal affairs. And the older generation often regards welfare as
shameful, so that many of them simply won’t claim what they are
entitled to.”

Disabled people are similarly unimpressed. The chancellor’s
announcement that the disabled persons tax credit will be increased
by £5 a week from June this year did little to assuage the
dismay felt by many. Steve Winyard, head of policy at the Royal
National Institute for the Blind, criticised the government for
failing to extend the winter fuel payment to disabled people or to
increase key disability benefits. Instead, he argued, moves to end
poverty for the estimated six million disabled people on less than
half the average income were “noticeable by their absence”.

Radar’s social security policy officer, Margaret Lavery, agreed
that the Budget was a huge disappointment. “The main focus of the
Budget was very much on people in work, and for most disabled
people that just doesn’t reflect their circumstances. It’s very low
on security for those who cannot work.”

It seems clear that what the chancellor delivered last week was
a savvy pre-election budget. Explosive issues like fuel tax have
been handled delicately, substantial amounts of money have boosted
health and education budgets, and families have undoubtedly been
handed a pre-election bonus. On the other hand, older people and
those with disabilities will have to pray that next March the
chancellor counts them among the “deserving poor”.

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