Social care tops public priorities – but more funding needed

Somerset residents say social care should top the County Council’s agenda according to the authority’s latest public engagement initiative.

For the fourth year running, ‘helping vulnerable and elderly people’ was voted the highest of the Council’s priorities by residents taking part in Listening Learning Changing.

The results emphasise the importance the public puts on the vital work of the council’s Adult Social Care services. This comes at a time when funding for social care across the country is under increased pressure and local authorities are calling on central government to do more to address the issue.

Leader of the Council, Councillor John Osman, said: “Once again people have told us that this is their key priority, the area of our work that they value the most.

“We will continue to do what we can to protect these services at a time of huge pressure on our budgets, but the figures speak for themselves. The funding local authorities receive has not kept pace with the costs of supporting a growing older population.”

Somerset’s ageing population means that more people need social care support to manage multiple health conditions. This comes at a cost that the council, like others across the country, is finding increasingly difficult to meet as funding falls.

The cost of supporting vulnerable adults in Somerset – including people with learning disabilities – rose by £8m between 2013/14 and 2015/16. Over the same period, Somerset’s Revenue Support Grant, the main component of government funding or local authorities, fell by more than £30m.

“It’s an issue that is of national importance and needs a national solution”, added Cllr Osman. “Money alone won’t solve the problem but it is clear that social care in fundamentally underfunded.

“That has to be addressed but in the long-term there also has to be more emphasis on helping people stay healthy and independent for longer, with a bigger role for community-level, community-led support.”

In last year’s Autumn Statement the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave local authorities the ability to raise Council Tax by an additional 2 per cent ring-fenced for social care. In 2015/16 that raised an extra £3.8m in Somerset, while at the same time the introduction of the National Living Wage added around £5.2m to costs.

This year’s Listening Learning Changing campaign spoke to more than 6,000 people, asking questions about council priorities people valued most as well as other key issues.

More than 4,500 people indicated which of eight County Council priorities they valued most. After ‘helping vulnerable and elderly people’ the second most voted for priority was ‘investing in Somerset’s economy and infrastructure’ followed by ‘attracting jobs and apprenticeships.’

The report summarising the results will be published on the Council’s website later this month.