As soon as Philip Hammond, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, announced an extra £2 billion for social care in his first budget in March, jostling began on how the money would be spent.
Care providers suggested that the money could be held back by local authorities and might fail to make its way to frontline services. But care services on the frontline are increasingly run by large, for-profit providers, commissioned by local authorities. For the New Economics Foundation think-tank this raised concerns that the £2 billion would go “straight into the pockets” of big companies that have benefited from the increased incursion of the private sector into public service delivery.
The money is both necessary and welcome. Although details of how the money will be allocated are yet to be finalised, the Local Government Association has urged for councils to be given flexibility in how it is used. But the extra £2 billion clearly isn’t enough – it will just about cover wage increases associated with the introduction of the living wage, and has been introduced at a time of looming post-Brexit labour shortages.
A recent Panorama investigation revealed that the tightening of spending has already led to a proliferation of zero-hour contracts in the squeezed care sector and, alarmingly, an increasing number of care contracts being handed back to local authorities because of the financial challenges.
Some have suggested the money could be used to provide a “breathing space” that enables the government to actually undertake significant reform of social care financing. But this could run the risk of focusing purely on finding a sustainable financial solution and so shore up a broken social care system in which the profits of private providers are prioritised over the delivery of personalised long-term care to those in need.