Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 8th October 2014

Party conference season concludes this week with Liberal Democrat Conference. Last week saw Conservative Conference open Ukip defections and conclude with billions of pounds of unfunded commitments.

Contrast that with Labour Conference the week before, where the party bent over backwards to show how any additional spending can be paid for, including the flagship Time to Care Fund announced by Ed Miliband. I wrote last week about the implications of the fund for the long-term sustainability of the NHS, but it’s the social care part which will have the greatest impact for councils and the services we can provide within Crawley.

Currently, most social care costs are paid for by councils out of the same pot as other local services. Before the cuts local government was already the most efficient part of the public sector and yet under the Conservatives councils have been forced to take on the largest cuts of any part of government. While councils have seen their income slashed, the local need for care has continued to rise quickly, with the gap between funding and projected expenditure growing annually at a rate of £2.1 billion.

There’s a limit to how efficient councils can become and meeting the growing demand for care has in practice involved cutting other services to fund the bill or reducing levels of care available for those in need. West Sussex has tried both approaches in the past and this year gambled on getting millions out of the NHS to make up the shortfall, risking a huge black hole in the budget and massive reductions in care if they fail. The gamble has already run into difficulties.

It’s hard to convey just how much of an impact reductions in care can have on the lives of the elderly and the vulnerable, it’s the single biggest weak point in the UK’s health system. Labour’s Time to Care Fund looks to put an end to that, giving the elderly the respect they deserve in old age and allowing people to die in their own home. It has taken far too long to get to this point.

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