Councils fear social care reforms will fall apart

Boris Johnson’s promise to cut middle class social care fees will cost £1.5 billion a year, threatening to wreck his reforms, councils have warned.

Chris Smyth

Local officials say that ensuring people who pay for their own care do not face higher fees to subsidise council-funded residents will cost more than the extra cash promised last week.

Unless Johnson finds more money at the spending review next month, his plan to cap costs could collapse as it did when David Cameron first proposed it, the County Councils Network said.

People who pay for themselves face care home fees 40 per cent higher than those paid by councils for means-tested places, in a system criticised as a “stealth tax” on the middle classes.

In its blueprint for social care, the government promised to end this “persistent unfairness” by ensuring that people who pay their own fees can get the same rates as councils pay “so that they can find better value care”.

The network, which represents rural bodies, said in a report that either care homes would be forced into bankruptcy or councils would face higher fees they could not afford.

Martin Tett, the network’s spokesman for adult social care, writes in The Times Red Box: “Unless the government fully funds this commitment, either providers will have to accept lower rates for care, affecting their profitability, or councils will have to pay more, which will impact on their ability to balance budgets.”

Tett says that not finding extra money “could . . . result in large-scale care home closures, with 272 care homes already closing their doors in counties over the past three years”.

He points out that when Cameron backed away from capping care costs it was partly because he struggled to find an affordable way to end the fees cross-subsidy. “We are concerned the government has underestimated the consequences of its well-intentioned aims.”

Local bodies estimate that raising council fees to sustainable rates would cost £761 million in rural communities and £1.5 billion across the country.

Last week’s review allocated councils only £2.9 billion over three years for the existing social care system, less than this annual cost and leaving no money over for improving the quality of care or offering it to more people.

The network also estimates that most requests for care were turned down last year as councils tightened eligibility while budgets were squeezed.

Of the 545,000 people in rural areas who asked for help last year, 58,000 were rejected because their needs were deemed not severe enough.