Local authorities across the country are spending well below the £554 per week minimum amount recommended for the residential care of older people, new figures have revealed.
Statistics released by 90 councils across the country show that the vast majority fall well below a “floor price” cited by the Local Government Association (LGA) and reveal a worrying postcode lottery.
A number of councils, including Dartford, Wolverhampton, Leicester, Liverpool, Lancashire, Hampshire and North Lincolnshire, pay providers a local weekly rate well below £400, while others are above £600.
The figures come as the government prepares this week to allow local authorities to bring forward increases to council tax to help pay for social care, after warnings about a spiralling crisis.
The LGA called on ministers to use the autumn statement to plug a £1.3bn black hole in a system that they claimed was in a perilous situation, but Philip Hammond, the chancellor, failed to offer additional funding.
Ministers are preparing to respond to the resulting outcry by reforming an existing policy that allows local authorities to charge a precept of up to 2% a year on council tax to help fund social care.
The communities secretary, Sajid Javid, is expected on Thursday to allow councils to pull forward any increases that might have been made in subsequent years to help fill the current spending gap.
Hammond told MPs that the government felt it had offered a “substantial increase” in funding for social care, but acknowledged fears that this money was “back-end loaded” during the parliament, which had posed a challenge to local authorities.
“Local authorities will have to look at how they manage the situation to get from here to the very substantial increase in funding that will be available to them later in the parliament,” he said.
But he added that councils and the NHS had to play their part as well. “Money alone is not the issue. It is about effective cooperation and collaboration between the NHS and social services,” he said.
Others expressed frustration, with one minister telling the Guardian that there was a view that councils had “cried wolf” too many times with claims of crises over a lack of funding.
They suggested that some colleagues feared that too much extra money from central government would reduce local incentives for the NHS and social care systems to be better integrated.
Theresa May’s official spokeswoman argued that more needed to be done by local authorities among which there was a “significant variation” in performance.
“We know money alone is not the solution,” she said. “Many councils are providing high quality social care services within existing budgets.”
The figures on weekly rates came from a freedom of information request submitted by Labour MP Jess Phillips, who told parliament that Buckinghamshire paid £615 a week, while her local council in Birmingham had a rate of £436, with people being asked for top ups.
“Are nans and grandads in Buckinghamshire worth more than they are in Yardley?” she asked.
The MP was speaking after an urgent question was tabled by the shadow social care minister, Barbara Keeley, who blamed the Tories for the crisis and said raising council tax would not fix the postcode lottery.
“Labour has called for this vital service to be properly funded; the Tories should heed those calls but they’ve offered nothing, instead blaming everyone from councils to professionals for the mess of their own making. It will fall to a Labour government to rescue social care.”
Others in government suggested that there was a feeling that the NHS ought to take more responsibility for supporting social care as a means of preventing hospital admissions.
Cllr Isobel Seccombe, the LGA lead on social care, told the Guardian that councils had been praised for being innovative in delivering services but simply needed more money following years of cuts.
She rejected the claim from government that under-performing councils were partly to blame for the crisis.
“While it is great that people are living for longer, this is placing an additional strain on services. We are now at breaking point, and councils have very little room in which to make further savings,” she said.
“We must all aspire to ensuring the care our loved ones receive goes beyond just helping them to get washed, dressed and fed, but to supporting them to live dignified, independent lives.”
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