Council calls on government to urgently address national social care and special educational needs funding issues

Oxfordshire County Council is calling on central government to make urgent national investments in social care for adults and children and in services for children with special educational needs to address predicted funding shortfalls in coming years.

It has warned ministers that, without this funding, council taxes will have to rise to meet adult social care costs.

The number of children with special educational needs, and their complexity of need, continues to grow, with demand far outstripping budgets. Meanwhile there are concerns that the recently announced government funding and policy proposals relating to adult social care do not address the immediate and long-term issues and may be unworkable due to these ongoing pressures.

In addition, in children’s social care local government is seeing a rise in the complexity and costs of supporting vulnerable children and families.

Councillor Liz Leffman, the leader of Oxfordshire County Council, has sent letters to Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week outlining concerns ahead of the government’s Autumn budget announcements.

Need to address urgent funding needs

Councillor Callum Miller, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “Adult social care is facing an immediate crisis. The numbers simply do not add up here in Oxfordshire or elsewhere in the country. We welcome the start that has been made to address the challenges in Adult Social Care but none of the recent announcements address today’s funding pressures – and, in some cases, they increase them.

In September the government said that current ‘demographic and cost pressures will be met through Council Tax, social care precept, and long-term efficiencies’. In Oxfordshire this equates to £9m to meet demographic pressures and potentially a further £6m to meet anticipated inflationary pressures. Unless there is further funding in the Spending Review, we will have to follow the government’s instruction and increase further the charges to our residents through council tax or social care precept. The only alternative would be to cut the adult social care budgets in real terms, with a direct impact on the care we can afford to provide.”

Funding challenges for children's services

Councillor Miller continued: “Reform is urgently needed on a national basis to provide adequate special educational needs funding. Demand for funding is unsustainable. In Oxfordshire we estimate that our county requires £13.8 million extra in funding to maintain current provision level.

“In children’s social care we are predicting that we will need an additional £2m - £3m of spending to respond to the increased demand that has built up during the pandemic. In addition, children placement cost rises for all councils are significantly higher than inflation. Investment is needed to address the placement sufficiency challenges, the lack of availability of suitable quality placements which meet children’s needs, and prohibitive costs charged by the independent sector. We estimate that increased care costs will add another £4.9m of pressures to our council budget. This national situation needs urgent action.

Invest now and transform adult social care

Addressing the adult social care challenge, Councillor Miller said “An increasing number of people both nationally and indeed here in Oxfordshire are waiting for a care assessment, care, and for their support arrangements to start or a review of their support plans because of ongoing and exacerbating staff shortages. If this is not addressed as a matter of urgency, local authorities nationally and here in Oxfordshire will be unable to undertake the additional assessments required to enable people to begin working towards the cap.

“In terms of the Health and Social Care Levy, it is our understanding that adult social care will have access to £5.4bn, out of a total of £36bn, raised through the levy nationally, a significant proportion of which will be attributed to meeting the costs associated with the set-up and implementation of the care cap and moving local authorities towards paying a fair cost of care. This will not assist in stabilising the workforce or meeting that increased demand for support either here in Oxfordshire or elsewhere.

“On a national basis the government needs to tip the balance by putting prevention, early intervention and wellbeing front and centre of policy and spending priorities. Otherwise, we risk pushing social care into the realms of simply being a crisis support service.

“This winter we think government should provide an additional £3bn nationally to stabilise care supply and build up and strengthen care at home, enhance community support, meet unmet needs, and mitigate ongoing, intensifying recruitment and retention challenges and provide a significant package of support for unpaid carers.

“We believe there should be a new employment deal for care staff across the country, including a workforce strategy, adult social care minimum wage, enhanced training, development and career progression, recognition, and regulation. This must include the introduction of a specific adult social care living wage.

“It is also our strong belief that there should be a significant uplift in funding for local authorities to enable them to fully deliver on their statutory duties.

“Short-termism costs more, has a negative impact on people’s lives and stores up problems for the future. We urge government to invest now, transform social care and most importantly people’s lives for the better.”