Rishi Sunak’s hotly-anticipated Spring Budget speech earlier today has ‘fallen short’ of setting out the strategic direction for public services, and in particular the need for investment in social care, according to health service chiefs.
NHS Providers, the membership organisation for those working in NHS acute, ambulance, community and mental health services, hit out at the Chancellor for ‘failing to deliver on the promise of successive governments to unveil a plan for reforming social care by the end of the year’.
While short-term support might have been welcome for those that have worked so hard over the last year; it isn’t the Chancellor and his Budget that can make the systemic change needed to reform the system from the ground up
In his speech to Parliament, Sunak focused mainly on the economy, touching only very briefly on the NHS and social care sectors, with the promise of an extra £1.65billion for the continued rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations and testing in England, £19.5m for domestic violence programmes, £40m for victims of the 1960s Thalidomide scandal, and £10m to support armed forces veterans with mental health needs.
But NHS Providers’ deputy chief executive, Saffron Cordery, called for the Government to reaffirm its commitment to ‘giving the NHS whatever it needs to deal with COVID-19’.
A long-term challenge
She added: “It is good news that the UK’s vaccination programme will receive an extra £1.65billion.
“The vaccination rollout is a source of national pride and we commend everyone involved in planning and delivering this hugely-complex programme.
“But, as the Chancellor said in his statement today; the profound damage caused by the pandemic is not over yet.
Successive governments have promised to fix social care and yet none have delivered the radical change we need
“These continue to be uncertain times for health and care services, which are still dealing with the immediate pressures of COVID-19 and face a challenging legacy of the pandemic for years to come.
“It is vital that more money is provided to cover additional COVID-19 costs in 2021/22 as, and when, they arise.”
And she warned: “The reality is that, in the longer term, we will need to see further investment to help the health service meet the increased demand across acute, mental health, community, and ambulance services to treat people who have Coronavirus now as, well as longer-term challenges, such as the clearing the backlog of elective care dealing with additional demand for mental health services.
“We also need to support and reward the NHS workforce who have worked tirelessly during the pandemic.
“Sadly, today's Budget has fallen short on setting out the strategic direction for public services, and in particular, much needed support for social care, which desperately needs investment and a longer-term programme of support.
“Successive governments have promised to fix social care and yet none have delivered the radical change we need. We are urging the Government to deliver on its promise to unveil a plan for reforming social care by the end of the year.”
A more-long-term funding solution is also favoured by the Local Government Association, which represents local authorities across the country.
Its chairman, Councillor James Jamieson, said: "Councils continue to lead local efforts to protect lives and livelihoods from COVID-19, but still face substantial cost pressures and income losses.
These continue to be uncertain times for health and care services, which are still dealing with the immediate pressures of COVID-19 and face a challenging legacy of the pandemic for years to come
“The Government has provided a significant financial package of support so far to help, but the ongoing financial impact and unpredictability of the pandemic means this support must be kept under review.
“We continue to call on Government to meet – in full - all cost pressures and income losses incurred by councils as a result of the pandemic.
“Further action is also desperately needed to immediately shore up social care services and to secure the long-term future of care and support.
“The Government must urgently bring forward its proposals, including a clear timetable for reform, so that we can finally put social care on a sustainable footing and enable people to live the lives they want to lead.
“Public finances are undoubtedly under huge strain, but investment in our local services will be vital for our national economic and social recovery.”
A missed opportunity
And Kirsty Matthews, chief executive of Hft, the national charity supporting adults with learning disabilities, described today’s announcement as ‘a missed opportunity’, telling BBH: “It is highly disappointing that the Government has failed to yet again offer any kind of additional financial support to social care in today’s Budget announcement.
“This is even more of a shock coming as it does at the end of an extraordinarily-challenging year, which has seen social care staff working tirelessly on the frontline throughout the pandemic to support some of our most-vulnerable adults in society.
“Today’s Budget marks another missed opportunity to address the financial challenges the sector has been facing for many years, including the continued underfunding of increases to the National Living Wage which impacts on all providers’ ability to recruit and retain these key members of staff.
The Government must urgently bring forward its proposals, including a clear timetable for reform, so that we can finally put social care on a sustainable footing and enable people to live the lives they want to lead
“We urge the Government to take action now and recognise the efforts of a sector all too often considered an afterthought.
"There has never been a more appropriate time to address the needs of a beleaguered-but-vital social care sector by bringing forward the long-term funding proposals which have been promised on so many occasions.”
Changing the narrative
But Nick Sanderson, chief executive of social care provider, Audley Group, told BBH, the lack of fiscal support was the tip of the iceberg, adding: “While short-term support might have been welcome for those that have worked so hard over the last year; it isn’t the Chancellor and his Budget that can make the systemic change needed to reform the system from the ground up.
“The only feasible solution is reducing the need for care within the UK.
“This involves a more-holistic view of social care for older people.
“We, as a nation, need to change the narrative around social care services and make them a last resort and, instead, improve the planning system to facilitate the building of more-suitable housing, with care and wellbeing services attached.
“Only this will take the intolerable pressure off hospitals and residential care.”