As the dust settles on 2016, everyone, no matter their political persuasion, seems to be in agreement: the year was tumultuous and filled with uncertainty and upheaval. Unfortunately, social care was not immune from the sense of foreboding. It felt that, as the weeks went by, stories of social care in ‘crisis’ became increasingly common and more alarmist in tone.
So, if 2016 was the year of the crisis, what can we expect to happen to social care in 2017? And what can the optimists among us hope for in the next few months?
Council tax will increase
Throughout 2016, the evidence supporting the claim that social care was heading towards, or indeed was already in, a state of financial crisis swelled in size and became more robust. As the evidence grew, so did the pressure on government to take decisive action.
So it was, with a sense of indignant disbelief, that the sector greeted the news that the Chancellor of Exchequer had entirely neglected to mention social care in his first Autumn Statement.
Almost a month of further inaction followed, which ended with an announcement that, from April 2017, councils in England would be allowed to raise council tax by up to 3% to fund social care. In April 2018 councils will be permitted to raise tax by a further 3%. This, coupled with a £240 million social care grant, could raise as much as £900 million over the next two years.
However, many commentators have noted that the money raised by council tax increases is purely notional, and that the most deprived areas with the greatest need will be able to raise the least money. What is more, the £240 million social care grant is not new money; it has been reallocated from the New Homes Bonus.
This was something that Sense welcomed with great caution, warning the government that this funding would not be adequate to resolve the true scale of underfunding in social care. It has been estimated that the sector will have accrued a deficit of £2.6 billion by 2020.
While the funding offered by the government for social care does not meet the actual need, it is encouraging that they have acknowledged that the problem exists and taken steps to address it.
An appetite for a long-term solution
It is also heartening that the government have acknowledged that council tax increases alone will not sustain social care in the long-term. The opposition parties agree on this. There is real political appetite to find a proper, sustainable funding solution for social care.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, announced in December that his department will be conducting a “Fair Funding Review” of social care.
The review will aim to address the variable demographic pressures experienced by councils and develop a more transparent funding formula. This should mean that councils with greater levels of need, for example those with older populations or greater levels of deprivation, will benefit from a funding formula that some people argue has inequality built into it.
We hope that this review will allow for some really bold and original thinking about how social care is organised, commissioned and funded. It is certain that the eyes of the sector will be keenly focused on the review when it reports later this year.
Integration of services
2017 also promises to be the year that the integration of health and social care really begins to progress.
Over the next 12 months, every local area in England will begin to implement their Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) for health and social care. The STPs should lay down the framework for how health and social care services will work together and how they will achieve full integration by 2020.
If they are realised, and integration is achieved, then people who use social care services and the NHS can expect seamless high quality care, with the pre-existing barriers between the two sectors completely demolished.
If this is done well, then we can expect the quality and consistency of care to improve nationally and the NHS and social care to operate more efficiently, better considering the needs and preferences of individuals.
Housing and long-term independence climbing up the agenda
For a number of years now, the direction of travel in health and social care has been to move away from institutional models of long-term care, and towards models of care that promote independence, reablement and self-determination.
This is a trend we can expect to continue in 2017.
One model of care that is growing, and has the principle of independence at its core, is supported living.
The government are currently consulting on the future funding of all supported accommodation services. The proposed reforms to the funding model should see commissioning responsibilities devolved down to local authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups. This will be a departure from the current model where supported housing services are funded via housing benefit.
This change has considerable scope to cause uncertainty for the sector – and for the people who use services. However, if the changes are implemented effectively, they could see great improvements in supported living services.
Sense will be working to ensure that the reforms are done in such a manner that they promote the personalisation of supported living services, and align their commissioning with other health and care services.
After the uncertainty and ‘crises’ of 2016, 2017 does offer hope. After all, change should breed opportunity. What is more, the government has acknowledged the perilous state of sector, albeit very lately.
Despite the calamitous warnings, uncertainty and upheaval, great care continued to take place across the country – and this will continue in 2017. Indeed, Sense has big plans for the next 12 months – for example, we are providing vital short breaks for disabled children in partnership with Birmingham City Council and implementing our innovative supported housing strategy.
It would be foolish to dismiss or overlook the very real warnings about social care funding, and the sector is by no means out of the woods just yet. But there is certainly cause for optimism in 2017 – and lots of potentially exciting changes and opportunities on the horizon.