The end of austerity? Fair funding for a safe and caring society.
Our Chief Executive, Neil Blanchard, comments on funding for adult social care and health services:
Proposed funding and investment for services
Ahead of a General Election, we have started to see declarations from across the political spectrum of proposed increased funding and investment for social care and health services in the years ahead.
This has included the Chancellor announcing in September 2019 an extra £1bn of funding for adult and children’s social care for 2020-21, with potential for a further £0.5bn dependent on extension of the 2% Social Care Precept for council tax. It was also confirmed that £2.5bn of existing social care grants would be rolled over for a further year.
Although trailed as the start to the ‘end of austerity’, and clearly a welcome message for our sector, after ten years of funding reductions, increasing costs and significant workforce pressures, there clearly remains concern and skepticism about the impact that this additional funding will have on an already very overstretched system.
It is also widely accepted that without the much-anticipated green paper on social care, there remains a lack of any long-term strategy to tackle the underlying issues of increasing demand for care and support.
It is estimated, that once existing commitments to the NHS are taken from the £1.5bn additional funding, spending on most public services would on average only increase in real terms by 1.2% annually between 2019/20 and 2023/24.
The Kings Fund analysis of the impact (September 2019) is that ‘The funding…at best stops the current problems getting worse, but doesn’t undo the years of underinvestment… It’s not going to be enough to increase quality, meet unmet needs, or give much stability to providers and the hugely under-valued social care workforce.’
Funding for our services
For Southdown, with over 82% of our income being via public sector funding, the past decade of austerity has had significant impact on the services we provide for vulnerable clients across Sussex.
Fortunately, to date, we have weathered the various challenges and despite decommissioning of some preventative services and reduced funding to others, we have been able to work with commissioning partners to stabilise the majority of our services.
This has not been easy.
For our community-based housing support and mental health wellbeing services, as funding has been restricted, our commissioners have requested that we prioritise support to those with the very highest level of need and vulnerability.
Whilst we appreciate that this is in line with the approach statutory agencies have adopted, it poses real concern about the increasing number of people who no longer have access to support before their issues escalate into crisis.
The loss of preventative services, although an easy target at times of austerity, is clearly a short-term solution.
Protecting funding for preventative services
However, there is a glimmer of hope that acknowledgement of the benefits of preventative interventions is not lost forever. The NHS Long Term Plan includes considerable focus on prevention, with the aim to support people to live longer, healthier lives through heling people to make better choices and treating symptoms early on.
Our community support services are very much in tune with this ethos and approach. Our Impact Report and reports to commissioners demonstrate the effectiveness of our services to not only deal with presenting crisis but also work holistically to help clients self-manage a wide range of socio-economic and health issues.
For our learning disability services, the situation has become considerably more acute in the past two years. As we’ve stated previously, this has led to this area of our operations moving into a deficit financial position because of hourly fee rates not adequately covering operating and staffing costs. To address this situation, we have been conducting a sustained lobbying campaign to ensure that commissioners and elected members are fully aware of the business risks we and other providers face. Discussions with commissioners and councilors have enabled us to openly share our challenges whilst also acknowledging their pressures, and the risks and actions we will need to consider if funding does not improve.
We appreciate that the funding issues for social care ultimately rest on how Government responds to the crisis, but we also experience the harsh reality of local decisions as to how limited local authority funding is distributed across competing demands.
To support our argument, and that of our adult social care commissioners, we believe it is important that we provide honest evidence of the fragility of the provider sector and the implications of funding decisions where local authorities hold a statutory duty to the clients we support on their behalf.
As we approach the annual budget setting process, it is vital that we all (providers, local authorities and Government) do not just focus on the immediate year ahead but also assess the implications of finance and resource allocation decisions over the mid-term.
For Southdown, as part of our five-year planning, this has included identifying the minimum funding increases we predict we will need to cover mandatory and inflationary cost inflation, ensuring that commissioners are fully aware of this in advance of their own decision-making.
With close to 50 years’ experience, Southdown has a long-term commitment to continue to provide support to meet the needs of the most vulnerable people across Sussex. However, this can only be achieved if the operating and financial conditions are sustainable.
Whatever the future holds financially, we will continue to do everything we can to speak up for the best interests of our clients and make the biggest impact we can to help Sussex communities.