Social care spending down by 11.5 per cent in Northamptonshire following decade of austerity

Exclusive figures reveal reality of stark reductions after new health secretary said fixing social care is 'absolute priority'

By Harriet Clugston and Jack Duggan
Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 9:37 am

Spending on adult social care has fallen by £88 per person in Northamptonshire over the last decade amid swingeing cuts up and down England, exclusive analysis shows.

New Health Secretary Sajid David claimed last month that fixing social care remains an 'absolute priority' for the Government, when he took over office from disgraced Matt Hancock.

But new analysis by NationalWorld has revealed the reality of stark spending reductions in communities across the country over the last 10 years – despite our aging population – with northern and midlands regions bearing far worse than the south, outside London.

Social care cuts have hit Northamptonshire hard in the last 10 years of austerity

Chris Thomas a senior research fellow and health and care expert at public policy think tank IPPR, said he believes social care provision has been cut 'as a consequence of wider central government cuts' during austerity.

He was responding to figures showing there had been a drop in the number of over 65s receiving long-term support.

The National Audit Office said data gaps meant the Department of Health and Social Care was unable to say if this was because provision had been reduced by councils, or if they were doing better preventative care to reduce the need for long-term support later.

Mr Thomas said: “I think with the data points as they are, the wiggle room that it always gives government is not being able to say with 100 per cent certainty, but I would be hugely surprised if that was down to prevention getting better and efficiencies working and austerity being a system that’s somehow put pressure on local authorities and providers and it somehow working well.

“The UK is one of the countries of any comparable country that is least good at using preventative social care interventions and I’m not aware of anything that's suggested that that has been improving.”

NHS Digital data shows Northamptonshire spent £219.9 million on adult social care in 2019/20.

After adjusting for inflation, that was a real-terms cut of £28.6 million, or 11.5 per cent, compared to 2010-11, when spending stood at £248.5 million.

Adult social care includes all support for people aged 18 or over, including short or long-term care in the community or residential settings, for physical or learning difficulties or ill health.

Across the East Midlands, spending fell by 13.9 per cent, or £190.2 million, over the same 10-year period, compared to an average drop of 2.1 per cent across England - only London saw a steeper fall, with cuts of 13.5 per cent.

That compares to a rise of 4.8 per cent across the South East, South West and East of England regions.

The figures refer to gross current expenditure. It only includes day-to-day spending on care, excluding capital spending such as on buildings or other physical assets, and includes the contributions made by clients towards the cost of their council-arranged care.

A recent report by the NAO found spending had fallen by four per cent nationally since 2010-11 (3.9 per cent by NationalWorld’s calculations).

That uses a measure known as net current expenditure – the same as gross current expenditure except it excludes client contributions, to only look at the cost burden on councils.

Here too NationalWorld’s analysis reveals huge disparities – the North East was worst hit, with a drop of 16.4 per cent, followed by London on 15.5 per cent. The East Midlands saw cuts of 10.73 per cent.

In Northamptonshire, spending fell by 2.7 per cent, the equivalent of £100 per person or £5.1 million in total.

Senior research fellow Erica Roscoe added: “There is a finite amount of support the council can offer, whether that’s staff or funding."

Council-arranged social care is funded through a mix of central government grants, general council tax and the social care precept portion of council tax, as well as means-tested fees for those receiving care.

The NAO report said central government funding to local authorities had been cut by 55 per cent since 2010-11, which had reduced their spending power by 29 per cent.

Mr Thomas believes the new health secretary needed time to demonstrate his commitment to social care.

“Hopefully it will be taken forward now in tangible action but I think the proof of the pudding is basically the Government has a commitment to bring forward a proper reform plan for social care by the end of the year," the said.

“If the plan is either weak or delayed, as we know social care plans are very liable to be delayed from recent experience, that will be a very bad sign in terms of is there commitment there.”

The Department of Health and Social Care was approached for comment.