New Clause 9 on the Care Bill tonight proposed that: “The Joint Care and Support Reform Programme Board must inform the Secretary of State by an annual written report that it is satisfied whether sufficient funding is in place to ensure that social care is adequately funded and that the provisions in the Act can be implemented satisfactorily”. The New Clause went on to explain that the Joint Care and Support Reform Programme Board means the Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and the Department of Health. Who could object to that? It makes no commitment to increase public expenditure (however much that is clearly needed) in order to avoid falling foul of (absurd) Tory claims about Labour’s profligacy at a time of austerity. It only asks for an annual written report about whether the funding for the most needy elderly people is adequate. Yet Labour abstained.
The facts are terrible. Funding for adult social care has been cut by an enormous £2.7bn since 2010. As a result the number of elderly and frail people receiving social care has fallen by nearly 170,000 (so that 1 in 6 no longer get the care they need) in the last 4 years when the number of pensioners has actually grown by half a million. The vast majority of Councils (130 out of 152) only now provide help at all for those with ‘substantial’ or ‘critical’ needs – a drastic way of saving money which is actually a false economy because with virtually no money now spent on prevention, much more has to be spent on the most expensive forms of care.
So why did Labour object even to an annual assessment of the state of care? The Treasury team (which in this context means Ed Balls) objected on the grounds that even a statement about adequacy might be taken as an implicit commitment to meet any shortfall. But, first of all, it doesn’t imply that at all: it means no more and no less than that there ought to be public understanding of whether or not there is a shortfall, and if so by roughly how much, and then tackling that, and the timescale for tackling that, will be one of the key decisions for government to take when it has sufficient resources. Second, this is an area involving hundreds of thousands of carers and millions of families, and to say nothing at all one way or the other will be seen as an abnegation of duty on an issue that matters deeply to a huge number of families. But above all it begs the question: what exactly does Labour believe in and what would Labour do that inspires people to vote for the party, or is Osborne’s (deeply mistaken) austerity going to dumb down debate on everything that really matters to people?