Social services in England may have to turn to the NHS for extra
resources or face service cuts, experts have warned,
writes Lauren Revans and Derren
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 per year after inflation.
In addition, around 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 efficiency drive across
local government, threats to cap council tax rises, and reductions
in Supporting People budgets will almost certainly see 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 amounted to a
“significant slow down in spending” on social care, and
would see spending on social services fall as a proportion of gross
“Even during 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 and 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 with PCTs to deliver services more efficiently by joint
commissioning and pooling budgets.”