John Hart calls Boris to act on “Albatross” of social care

From today’s Western Morning News:

The leader of Devon County Council says social care is the “albatross around the neck of local government” as he urged Westminster to announce long-awaited reforms to the service.

Conservative John Hart also said successive governments, including the Tory-led coalition and majority Conservatives since 2010, had kicked the issue “as hard as it possibly can” down the road.

“I’m sure they have, because it’s one of these where it’s not an easy answer,” he said.

Under the current system in England, anyone who owns a home or has more than  £23,250 in savings needs to pay for their own care. For many people this means having to sell their property. Only when they have less than  £23,500 do local authorities step in to foot the bill.

Councillor Hart, who has been in charge at county hall since 2009, said it was crucial the government finally announced the shake-up promised by Boris Johnson on his first day as prime minister.

“It’s crucial because social care is becoming almost the albatross around the neck of local government. We don’t know at times just what the heck we’re walking into.

“It’s almost an open cheque book. You can’t be sure what’s going to come through your door tomorrow and you have to be prepared for it.”

The budget for adult care and health in the Devon County Council area, which excludes Torbay and Plymouth, is  £233 million this financial year – an increase of nearly  £22 million on last year.

The council says it will support almost two-thousand older people in residential care, 2,483 receiving personal care and 3,150 who get ‘reablement’ – such as when people get help to live independently after a stroke or are discharged from hospital with limited mobility.

Speaking in 2019 after replacing Theresa May as prime minister, Mr Johnson said: “I am announcing now – on the steps of Downing Street – that we will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve.”

But that plan has yet to be published, with any announcement yet to materialise. Reports in recent days suggest this has now been pushed back to the autumn.

One idea thought to be under consideration is a penny increase in national insurance contributions. However this would go against a Conservative manifesto commitment not to raise taxes.

When asked what the reforms should look like, Cllr Hart said: “I would like to see consistency from government first off. If we have to supply services for people, and we do have to supply services for people, we want to know from the government that they will support us for the services that we have to give.”

He added: “It’s getting to a stage shortly where some decisions are going to need to be taken because, as far as local government’s concerned, everybody says ‘you’re putting the council tax up every year’. We’re getting to a stage where people can’t pay. 

“The other side of that is unless we put council tax up, we haven’t got the money to look after vulnerable people across all ages.” 

In 2010, the Dilnot Commission was set up by the government to address reforms to social care. It proposed a lifetime cap on care costs individuals must pay of between  £25,000 and  £50,000.

However, whilst Cllr Hart said he hoped people could keep more of their own money, he questioned whether the Dilnot proposals would be “feasible,” adding that in some cases the authority is spending more than  £20,000 a year on care per person.

“In nursing homes, the fees are over a thousand pounds a week. Normal care homes are six to eight hundred pounds a week. I don’t know how one is going to handle this, but it is the albatross around local government. It’s almost the albatross around national governments as well.”

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