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Tory social care cuts are undermining councils and the NHS

This morning, I joined Sadiq Khan MP, Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander MP and Labour leaders of boroughs from across London at the launch of a campaign against huge Tory cuts to adult social care. New research by the London Red Lines campaign, which Lambeth Labour proudly supports, shows that cuts to councils will leave a £1.7 billion gap in adult social care funding in London by 2020 that will threaten the most vulnerable and undermine the NHS.

Despite their rhetoric around spending on the NHS, the reality is that the Government’s severe cuts to local government have severely impacted adult social care and public health, with huge knock-on effects on the NHS as well. In Lambeth, we’ve had our overall Government funding cut by 56% and last year, the Government actually cut our public health funding within that financial year by £1.9m. Cutting budgets in-year, having already made agreements and funded projects with our partners in important areas like sexual health and health checks for the elderly, left us with a significant gap that has been compounded by further cuts of almost £3m for next year as well.

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Rising demand and the impact of consistent reductions in our budget have placed significant pressure on adult social care, where we provide care for over 4,000 vulnerable people in Lambeth. In November, the Government announced the option of an additional 2% ‘precept’ on Council Tax to be ring-fenced for adult social care.

While we have rightly taken that option to provide much needed funding, this policy is nothing more than a sticking plaster from the government that is grossly inadequate to the challenge we face. The precept will raise £1.8m a year, against an estimated gap in Adult Social Care of £20m in Lambeth alone. This is also at a time when NHS trusts face huge financial challenges as well; King’s College Hospital faces a deficit of almost £100 million. This further reduces the capacity of institutions to work together in pooling resources and support.

This is also taking place within a sector where demand continues to rise and we continually face additional responsibilities with less money. While the Care Act passed last year has lots of merit in requiring consistent frameworks of care and support for carers across the country, the Government has not provided additional resources to allow us to achieve that.

It is important to remember that most of this is taking place in a sector where we are commissioning within a private market and there isn’t much room for squeezing savings out of contracts from providers. Indeed this market is showing signs of strain and fragility, with lots of challenges around cost and recruitment. But, we can do our bit to tackle that and I'm proud that within the next month we will be paying all domiciliary carers in Lambeth the London Living Wage - a manifesto commitment delivered. Not only is this the right thing to do, it is important for the sector to ensure staff are properly motivated and supported as they provide care for our vulnerable and elderly residents.

As I told the Labour Local Government Conference at the weekend during a debate on this area, we’re not a council that will just sit back and accept that the challenges are too great for adult social care. As I’ve already said, the Care Act offers a good framework to raise standards and we rightly welcomed the better Care Fund, despite the pressures and bureaucracy, as a positive recognition of the importance of partnership between councils and the NHS. Also, the introduction of a precept, while not sufficient, is at least part of a growing recognition that the current situation within adult social care isn’t working.

This recognition is particularly important for councils as adult social care is the biggest part of our budget, but is often the least understood. We need to take up the challenge of explaining to our communities about, not only the pressures that we face, but also the positive work we are already doing in this area.

In Lambeth, we’re determined to focus on ensuring that more people are cared for at home rather than in hospital. Not only does that make savings but it is also what people want for their care. That’s why we’re working with Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust on the @home service which will provide a range of services to support people in their own homes. A specialised @home matron will coordinates a person’s care, working closely with the @home GP. The @home team also includes nurses, therapists, pharmacists and social workers, who will visit you in your home and provide the care needed.

This preventative approach is being applied to tackle other, often interdependent problems, such as loneliness. That’s why we’re backing projects like South London Cares, which recruit young professionals in their 20s and 30s to act as volunteers to socialise in older people’s homes.

And we’re tackling the particular problem of black mental health that we have in Lambeth (black men are 17 times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious mental illness than white counterparts). Our Black Health and Wellbeing Commission is  looking at better ways of preventing poor mental health, of enabling people to access services earlier and in the places and ways they feel comfortable and when they are in crisis of having a better experience of care.

Those are the positive steps that we can take in power in local government, as we are able to deliver the local solutions that work for our communities. That’s why it’s important that, as we continue loudly opposing damaging government policies through campaigns like Red Lines, we also continue to apply our values in improving the services we provide to our most vulnerable residents. 

Lib Peck

Leader of Lambeth Council 

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