Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care, Cllr Paulette Hamilton, looks at the challenges of catering for the health and care needs of our growing and ageing population.
Next week Birmingham councillors will debate a budget that includes a 4 per cent rise in council tax bills for 2016-17. The initial 2 per cent is to cover a general increase in costs, while the additional 2 per cent is for the Government’s social care precept, which is designed to cover the growing cost of social care services.
I would love to be able to tell you that that’s the end of the matter, but please don’t be fooled. The social care precept will simply not cover the rising bill for looking after an ever ageing population.
And don’t just take my word for it. Earlier this week, the Local Government Association (LGA) and dozens of charities warned that council tax rises to pay for social care in 2016/17 will not bring in enough money to alleviate the growing pressure on services caring for elderly and disabled people.
There is funding further down the line in the shape of the Better Care Fund but the LGA is urging the Chancellor to use his Budget next month to – at the very least – bring forward the £700m of new funding earmarked for social care through the Better Care Fund by the end of the decade to 2016/17.
I hope that call doesn’t fall on deaf ears because the need for extra money now is very clear in Birmingham.
Over the next four years, the increase in the number of adults requiring social care plus the cost of implementing the Government’s new Living Wage (not the Birmingham Living Wage) is an additional £40 million a year. That is nearly double the amount of money the council will receive from the social care precept over the same period.
Of course this is not just a debate for Birmingham – it’s a massive issue for the whole country. Catering for the health and care needs of our growing and ageing population is a national priority and the challenges we face in Birmingham are similar to those faced by councils up and down the country.
Despite those challenges, we’re introducing the Birmingham Care Wage – paying private sector care workers on council contracts £7.50 an hour regardless of age instead of the Government’s new minimum wage (£7.20 an hour for those aged over 25, from 1 April). That’s not been an easy thing to do at a time of massive Government cuts but we think it’s right to prioritise wages for those people who care for the people we love the most.
Like all local authorities, Birmingham City Council is committed to caring for our older people but things have to change fast.
We must move from a culture of dependency to one of independence. Yes the new approach will save money but I’m not using the move to independence as a code for cuts. Giving people greater independence as they grow older is the right thing to do, so we have to work with our partners in the NHS, the Third Sector and in communities to make sure future funding from the Better Care Fund is spent wisely.
I’ve spoken to a lot of people about this since becoming a Cabinet Member and the majority of people agree that greater independence for people as they get older is a good thing – as long as they are in good health as they get older.
That’s why preventative work will be more important than ever. We have to make sure that fewer people reach old age with conditions like diabetes, coronary heart disease. So it’s frustrating that just as we need to focus on preventative work the most our Public Health money for services like weight management has been cut.
That represents a double-whammy for many councils and I have no doubt that it will cost taxpayers more in the long run – whether that’s through additional pressure on the NHS or on social services.
Challenging times indeed but I do believe people are starting to wake-up to this issue and I was heartened to read the results of a BBC survey that asked people to prioritise the three services they thought should be spared from funding cuts. The highest support was for services which support vulnerable people – 74% of those asked said they wanted to protect services for the elderly, and 65% wanted to protect children’s services.
So I’ll end with three wishes
- The Government will listen to public concerns on this issue
- They will take note of the LGA concerns
- They will work closely with councils up and down the country to get the best deal for our loved ones, our parents and our grandparents.