A major demonstration in support of the NHS will see tens of thousands of people take to the streets in London on March 4 calling on the government to end health service funding cuts, privatisation and closures, and to support an integrated social care service.
The march is being called as the government continues to ignore the severe funding crisis the NHS faces as it endured its worst winter on record. A&Es looked more like war zones, with a record number of patients having to endure ‘trolley waits’ of four hours or more.
Some patients have reportedly died after long waits – in Worcestershire Royal hospital, it is believed a woman died of a heart attack after waiting 35 hours to be seen in January.
The long and potentially fatal wait times are hitting hospitals that simply cannot cope with chronic bed shortages. Such shortages have reached breaking point – and exist in part because of the crisis in social care.
Elderly and disabled patients get stuck in hospital with nowhere to go because there’s no adequate care in the community as local authorities face vicious cuts.
Slashed to the bone
“While the NHS has faced its worst funding cycle since 2010 – there’s no doubt that it’s being severely underfunded – the cuts haven’t been in real terms,” explained Unite researcher James Lazou. “On the other hand, the government has been actively slashing social care funding to the bone.”
Indeed, a look at a few statistics shows just how bad the state of social care funding is.
Social care budgets in England have been cut by £4.6bn – a real-terms net budget cut of 31 per cent since 2011.
In 2016 a joint report published by The King’s Fund and The Nuffield Trust warned six years of budget cuts, rising demand and staff shortages have meant social care services were facing a funding gap of ‘at least £2.8bn’ by the end of the decade.
An Age UK study estimated that the lack of suitable elderly care in the community has cost the NHS nearly £700m between 2010 and 2015, with many patients trapped in hospital as they wait for a care assessment, care home place, home care package or home adaptation.
Because social care services are statutory, meaning councils must provide the services, local authorities have cut to the bone all manner of non-statutory services such as libraries and youth centres in order to fund social care, Lazou explains.
Further cutting corners, councils have also massively scaled back eligibility for social care services, which are means-tested.
“And even after these drastic changes, councils are struggling to deliver the social care services they currently deliver,” Lazou noted. “Even Tory councils are saying that they can’t afford to deliver the very bare minimum of services.”
The situation came to a head last month when Surrey council called for a referendum to hike council tax by 15 per cent to help pay for social care. It was in the end scrapped – such a referendum was seen to be politically embarrassing for the Tory government – amid allegations that the government had given the Conservative-controlled council a “sweetheart” deal.
It later emerged that the Tory government had told Surrey council it can participate in a pilot programme allowing it to retain all its business rates from 2018, which will bring in extra income to help fund social care.
Whatever the details of the deal, the fiasco demonstrated just how dire the state of social care funding is.
Although the government has allowed councils to hike council tax up to 5 per cent to help pay for social care without having to hold a referendum, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said that any extra money raised from such tax rises will be virtually entirely swallowed up by paying social care workers the higher minimum wage that comes into force this year.
“Services supporting the most vulnerable people in our communities are at breaking point and many councils are increasingly unable to turn down the chance to raise desperately-needed money for social care and other local services next year,” noted LGA chairman Lord Porter.
“But extra council tax income will not bring in anywhere near enough money to alleviate the growing pressure on social care both now and in the future and the social care precept raises different amounts of money in different parts of the country.
“Social care faces a funding gap of at least £2.6bn by 2020,” he added. “It cannot be left to council taxpayers alone to try and fix this crisis.
“Without genuinely new additional government funding for social care, vulnerable people face an ever uncertain future where they might no longer receive the dignified care and support they deserve. This is not only worse for our loved ones but will also heap further pressure and wasted expense on the NHS.
“The bottom line is that both social care and the NHS – which Unite believes should be integrated – desperately need more funding if there’s to be any hope for a sustainable and reliable service in the future.”
Come join Unite on Saturday (March 6) at the #ourNHS march to demand from the government fair funding for health and social care – the future of the NHS depends on it.
Find out more about how you can participate here.