Health secretary denies social services need suffer from cuts

Social care services should not have to suffer because of the spending cuts imposed in last month’s Comprehensive Spending Review, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has said.

Giving evidence to the Commons health select committee yesterday, Lansley said he did not expect councils to tighten their eligibility criteria, and denied that they were under financial pressure that could lead to increased charges.

He acknowledged that the central government formula grant had been reduced but said the DoH had made available a number of other grants, including the learning disability transfer grant, which were not being cut. He added: ‘Local authorities, in the context of their council tax, are not seeing a reduction in cash terms of the resources available to them.’ The ‘more extreme scenarios’ for the future of social care were not likely to happen in reality, he said.

But committee member Grahame Morris said care homes were already closing as a result of the spending cuts, while day-care charges were increasing.

Lansley responded that ‘the bulk’ of social care funding in many authorities came from local sources such as council tax, rather than central government grants.

‘The headline overall real-terms reduction in formula grant doesn’t necessarily translate into a corresponding reduction in resources for social care – far from it.’

The health secretary also told the committee that the £1bn of extra Department of Health funding, announced in the CSR for local authorities to spend on social care, should not be spent on maintaining basic services.

The new cash should be focused on ‘re-ablement’, he said – keeping people as independent as they can be for as long as possible. It should draw on the potential of ‘telecare’ technology and support for people who have recently left hospital. Lansley said this spending would help to reduce the burden on basic social care services.

He added that in conversations he had had with local authorities they suggested they ‘would not regard cutting eligibility as something they would immediately resort to’.

However, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said social care budgets would inevitably be hit as a result of formula grant cuts.

John Jackson, co-chair of Adass’s resources network, told Public Finance: ‘The Department of Health has recognised the pressures on adult social care and has sought to include some additional resources to try and help.

‘But the overall grant settlement for local authorities sees a reduction of 26% – that’s after the injection of the additional resources.

‘If local authorities are having to reduce spending by about a quarter, as it is such a big proportion of the controllable budget, adult social care will have to find savings broadly in line with that.’

He said councils would be interested in re-ablement as a way of cutting costs out of other parts of the system, but added that the ‘big question’ was how far they could go beyond efficiency savings of 3% a year without cutting services.