Departments fear service cuts as chancellor’s sums become clear

Social services in England may have to turn to the NHS for extra
resources or face service cuts, experts have warned.

As part of last month’s spending review, the chancellor announced
that funding for social services for each of the next three years
would rise by an average of 2.7 per cent in real terms (news, page
6, 15 July).

However, this breaks down into an increase of 5.7 per cent for
2005-6, in line with 2002 government commitments, followed by two
years averaging at 1.3 per cent a year after inflation.

In addition, about one-sixth of the budget for social services
comes directly from the Department of Health, and could be subject
to ring-fencing. A spokesperson for the department said decisions
on this would be made in November.

These factors, combined with a 2.5 per cent local government
efficiency drive, threats to cap council tax and reductions in
Supporting People budgets, are likely to render social services
departments unable to meet all their commitments.

Peter Robinson, senior economist at the Institute for Public Policy
Research think-tank, said the figures revealed a “significant
slowdown in spending” on social care. Spending on social services
will fall as a proportion of gross domestic product.

“Even in the 1990s, when spending overall on the public sector was
being squeezed, social services spending continued to rise as a
proportion of GDP,” Robinson said.

He said it remained to be seen whether primary care trusts would
use their extra resources to help bail out local authorities rather
than risk failing to shift resources away from the acute sector
towards primary care and early intervention.

Anne Williams, co-chair of the Association of Directors of Social
Services resources committee, said the “modest” increases in years
two and three would intensify the “very real pressures” in the
system. But she said social services could work efficiently with
PCTs by joint commissioning and pooling budgets.

“The NHS has had bigger increases than this, but social services
are central to keeping it working effectively,” she added.

Pam Donnellan, social services executive member for Bournemouth
Council, said the settlement would “result in service cuts”.

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