Councils ‘unsustainably’ spend millions of pounds more on social care

15 Nov 18

Social care was the largest area of increased expenditure for local authorities in the last financial year, government figures have revealed.

Children’s social care spending shot up by 4.2% in 2017-18 compared to the year before – by £358m to £8.8bn

Adult social care expenditure also went up 2.8% in the last financial year compared to 2016-17 – by £416m to £15.3bn.

Tony Travers, director of research group LSE London, told PF the figures represent “a continuing long term shift of local government spending towards social care”.

He warned: “It is a completely unsustainable long term pattern, which would take us over time to all of local government spending being just on children’s and adult social care.”

He suggested that government was not doing enough about funding councils adequately because it was wrong assuming social care bills would not eclipse spend in all other areas.  

“The only thing stopping some kind of response to this is the fact that - even though it is mathematically inevitable - politicians believe it will never happen,” Travers said.

Both children’s and adult social care grew as percentage of total spending – children from 9% to 10%, and adults from 16% to 17%, the figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government showed.

This is the sixth consecutive year children’s social care spending has increased while adult social care has risen for four straight years.

Adam Lent, director of the New Local Government Network think-tank, told PF this pattern of spending is becoming “the norm”.

He said: “Council spending on adult and children’s social care continues to rise significantly while spending on nearly everything else is cut”.

He added: “Even with the extra, short-term money committed to social care in the Budget, this is a trend we can expect to continue as demand keeps rising and wider government funding is reduced,” he added.

The chancellor Philip Hammond gave adult social care £650m of grant funding in the Budget for 2019-20 and £84m to children’s services for the next five years.

Lent called for a major shift to prevention but warned that the government does not have the “intellectual bandwidth” for this at the moment as it is focusing on Brexit.

The largest decrease in local authority expenditure in 2017-18 was on education services, which fell by £1.1bn (3.3%) compared to 2016-17. MHCLG said this decrease was following the trend seen in recent years as local authority funded schools are being converted to academies.

Other services with decreased in spending included highways, public health, cultural services and central services.

Total local authority service expenditure was £89.8bn in 2017-18, down £643m compared to 2016-17. 

A study released this week revealed that half of adult social care directors expect to overspend on their adult social care budgets.

Analysis by the Local Government Association found that social services in England take on average 1,000 new child cases every day.


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