Only massive efficiency savings can spare social care funding

The Westminster Health Select Committee has said efficiency gains will need to be made ‘on an unprecedented scale’ in health and social care in England, despite earlier assurances from care services minister Paul Burstow that local authorities have no excuses to make cuts to adult social care.

In a report on public expenditure last week the Committee rejected the minister’s previous assertion that an increase of £2 billion in annual funding for adult social care, revealed in the Comprehensive Spending Review in October, meant there was ‘no justification for local authorities to slash and burn or for local authorities to tighten eligibility as far as the settlement goes’.

The report stated: ‘The secretary of state [for the Department of Health] told us that the Spending Review settlement, coupled with the two year pay freeze, will provide councils with the necessary resources to sustain current eligibility levels for social care. The evidence submitted to us, including the evidence submitted by the government itself, does not allow us to agree. Councils will need to sustain further efficiency savings of up to 3.5% per annum to avoid reducing their levels of care, and this will not be easy.

‘Although we welcome the government’s identification of additional resources for social care, through the mechanism of the Personal Social Services Grant (PSSG), the fact is that this funding is now part of the general local authority revenue grant which will reduce from £28 billion this year to £21.9 billion in 2014-15,’ the report stated, adding a concern that the increases in the PSSG would not be reflected in changes in actual overall spending on social care.

BASW England manager Ruth Cartwright said the news was confirmation of what she had long suspected. In her blog on the BASW website she stated: ‘It was never going to be true was it? Paul Burstow and Andrew Lansley [secretary of state for health] were assuming efficiency savings of 3%, ignoring the way services, staffing levels and staff support have already been reduced to a minimum by years of funding not keeping up with need, but even that would not have sufficed given the money that is actually available.’

The committee said the government had not been clear enough on its vision for how savings could be made in the NHS and that it was vital that the savings were made by efficiency gains rather than through cuts, particularly given the ‘uncertain landscape of the NHS reorganisation’. The government would need to maintain ‘close financial oversight’ during the transitional period of the re-organisation, it added.

Improved interaction between health and social care is critical if cost savings on both sides are to be made, it noted.

Ruth Cartwright urged social workers in adult services to ‘brace ourselves for the reality’ before suggesting that in future ‘we take whatever our ministers say with a large pinch of salt’.

View Ruth Cartwright’s blog here