Care services minister Paul Burstow has issued a staunch defence of the comprehensive spending review settlement for adult social care, accusing his critics of “flawed assumptions and poor maths”.
In a defiant speech to the National Children and Adult Services Conference yesterday, Burstow rejected Local Government Association claims that a £4bn funding gap would open up in adult social care by 2014-15 as a result of the CSR.
The figure is based on the 28% real terms cut to adult care funding from 2011-15. Burstow, however, said it was based on flawed premises.
He said that as a result of the public sector pay freeze from 2011-13, cost pressures would not be as high as the “long-term trend”, and that a cut in central government funding did not mean an equivalent cut in revenues raised because of councils’ ability to raise income through council tax and other means.
He also pointed to the government’s claim that it had provided adult care with £2bn a year in additional funding by 2014-15. However, though £1bn a year of this is due to come from the NHS, the other £1bn is part of the 28% cut to local government funding, not a way of mitigating it.
Burstow also pointed out that related areas such as the disabled facilities grant had been shielded from cuts.
He insisted: “Taken together with 3% annual efficiencies [we expect] this settlement does meet future demands.”
He claimed the government would ensure that the NHS funding for social care would not be hoarded within “PCT baselines” though he did not spell out how, and said that councils would be free to prioritise adult care from their budgets by the removal of ring-fencing.
However, his claims were treated with scepticism by delegates.
After Burstow’s speech, Richard Jones, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said that the government’s cut to local government funding means “there’s a gap of £3.6bn”.
Jones pointed out that authorities heavily reliant on government funding “would struggle to recoup lost resources”.
“It will be difficult for local authorities to feel they can balance their budgets without making some difficult decisions,” he said.
However, Burstow said funding was “only one part of the answer”. “Pumping more money into an unreformed system to manage ever-rising demand isn’t sustainable.
“We need to rethink our whole approach, and tackle the drivers of demand, the vulnerability and isolation that applies pressure to the care system in the first place.”
Burstow was also asked about his position on the impact of cuts to benefits outside his control like housing benefit and the Independent Living Fund.
He said “colleagues in the Treasury” were “absolutely scrupulous” about understanding the impacts of everything they were having to make decisions on, but he said: “Choices were and had to be made and some of those choices will be unpalatable and will cause difficulty but we have tried in the decisions we have made…to do our level best to support vulnerable people.”
Burstow had been due to launch the government’s vision for adult social care but this has been delayed.
However, he indicated it would involve an increased use of personal budgets and greater portability of assessments across councils as well as increased development of integrated services and greater collaboration between the NHS, councils and voluntary services. This echoes a parallel document launched today by 21 organisations including DH and Adass on the next stage of personalisation.
The vision will also feature a stripping away of bureaucracy and red tape, and an attitude to risk that combined better protection against harm with flexibility.
“Where rules and red tape are an obstacle to realising a person’s freedom and providing them with the right care and support that is right for them, we have to look critically at red tape and whether that red tape should go,” said Burstow. “And the same rigour must apply to custom and practice masquerading as rules and regulations.”
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