The Scottish Government must pause its ‘disruptive’ plans to remove social care from council control, in order to shore up local authority services that face real-terms cuts in 2023-24.
That was the message this week from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, in response to the 2023-24 Scottish budget, published last month, which COSLA claimed would put social care services under “tremendous pressure”.
The Scottish Government said the budget would provide over £550m more for councils than in 2022-23, a 4.5% increase in cash terms and 1.3% rise in real terms.
However, COSLA warned that, not only did councils need an additional £1bn in 2023-24, but, once policy commitments were taken into account, councils would only receive an extra £70m of the funding allocated. These commitments include £100m to fund a £10.90 minimum wage for adult care workers in services commissioned by councils and £140m to meet workforce costs arising from the 2022-23 pay deal.
Expert body the Institute for Fiscal Studies has also argued that the settlement amounts to a significant real-terms cut for local government, including by understating the impact of inflation on the cost of services.
COSLA said it was “inconceivable” that councils should be facing real-terms cuts to social care services, while the government was proceeding with “centralising structural reforms” to create a National Care Service (NCS).
National Care Service plan
The Scottish Government intends to create a National Care Service (NCS), under ministerial control, by 2026, initially with responsibility for adult social care but with a view to taking charge of children’s social care and criminal justice social work over time.
Local authorities’ current social care functions would be transferred either directly to the NCS or to regional care boards.
The Scottish Government has estimated it would cost £600m to £1.2bn, from 2022-26, to establish the NCS and associated care boards. The bill to create the NCS is due to have its first debate in the Scottish Parliament by mid-March.
The Scottish Government had previously estimated that establishing the NCS would cost £63m to £95m in 2023-24, but Scottish Parliament researchers have warned that there is no detail on how much was allocated for this purpose in the budget.
‘Reorganisation coupled with real-terms cuts’
COSLA health and social care spokesperson Paul Kelly said: “Improvements to care could progress faster and with more impact if services were properly resourced and did not face the distraction of structural reform. Instead, we are presented with reorganisation and real-terms cuts, which will have a significant impact on the delivery of care.
“Ministers must invest in change now and pause their plans for structural reorganisation.”
Social Work Scotland, which represents social work leaders, previously called for a pause to the legislation to create the NCS because of concerns about its financial impact at a time of high levels of social work vacancies and increasing waits for assessment and support.
Following COSLA’s comments, a Social Work Scotland spokesperson said this was still its position.
“We still believe that this is the right approach, and we are committed to working with our members and partners to get the best outcomes for people who need support, and social work and social care professionals,” the spokesperson said.
‘Serious pressures on workforce’
“Our ‘Setting the Bar’ reports indicate the serious pressures being felt by the workforce as a result of continuous financial savings and the shifting and increasingly complex work demands, as well as the impact of the pandemic over recent years.
“These cannot be underestimated, and we know that the timescales currently outlined will significantly impact the meaningful and critical participation of social work professionals in the design of a National Care Service.”
In response to the concerns, social care minister Kevin Stewart said: “The Scottish Government’s draft budget for 2023-24 increases funding for health and care services, including supporting the increase in pay for adult social care staff to at least match the real living wage.
‘Ending the postcode lottery’
“The National Care Service is the biggest public sector reform in Scotland since devolution. Our aim in delivering a National Care Service is to end the postcode lottery in care provision. We have a twin approach of delivering improvements now and working with people with lived experience to ensure the NCS to ensure the new system better meets the needs of the people of Scotland long into the future.
“We have also committed to increasing adult social care funding by at least 25%, £840m, by the end of the parliament, helping to lay the groundwork for the National Care Service.”