Rising social care demands placing ‘intolerable’ burden on councils

Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee chair Clive Betts MP

A decade of cuts and increasing pressures on ‘safety net’ services – particularly social care – has gutted non-essential council provision including transport, housing and culture, a group of MPs has said.

It accused the government of a dereliction of duty to local authorities by failing to set out a funding settlement that addresses service pressures or plan for future challenges.

In its report, Local government finance and the 2019 Spending Review, the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee, called on the government to end its piecemeal approach to council funding.

It said the government should provide a financial settlement that adequately supports councils to serve their communities and close the multi-billion gap in local authority funding.

The report said rising demands for social care, for both adults and children, was placing an ‘intolerable financial burden’ on councils.

‘Governments have been reviewing the funding of adult social care for some years but without conclusion,’ it said. ‘Without a solution local government will continue to be forced to cut back on the other services that it provides. Our recent report on adult social care highlighted the need for increased funding.

‘We reiterate the recommendations we previously made – there is a need for new revenue resources both at a local and national level. Local government must be given additional central government funding or powers to raise more revenue to deal with growing demand,’ the 53-page document said.

To restore local government expenditure to the position it was, as a share of GDP, in 2000/01 would require an increase of around £4bn – that is before taking into account the rise in demand for adult social care and children’s services over the past 20 years, the report said.

HCLG Committee chair Clive Betts MP said: ‘There is a disconnect between the services taxpayers expect their local authorities to provide and the level of service possible under current government funding. People expect well maintained roads, regular refuse collections and cultural services, yet funding rarely stretches beyond meeting the urgent needs of social care services.

‘The government has a duty establish a funding settlement that enables local authorities to provide services to meet the needs of their local communities. Over the last decade we have seen a regular chipping away at funding, while adding further statutory obligations for them to meet.’

The report, which made 34 conclusions and recommendations, said the government should consider bringing back the revenue support grant to give extra funding to struggling councils; review the council tax system; and give local authorities greater freedom to pursue their own solutions to ensure financial stability.

Local Government Association chairman councillor James Jamieson said: ‘A third of councils fear they will run out of funding to provide their statutory services – such as adult social care, protecting children and preventing homelessness, within three years.

‘Only with the right funding and powers can councils meet their legal duties and protect the wide range of other valued local services which also make such a positive difference to communities and people’s lives.’

A Ministry of HCLG spokesperson said: ‘We’re providing local authorities with access to £46.4bn this year – a real terms increase.

‘Ultimately councils are responsible for managing their own resources and we are working with local government to develop a funding system for the future.’