Autumn Statement – what’s in it for social care?

Guest post from Megan Cleaver, Parliamentary Officer at Scope.

Today’s Autumn Statement was the last big political announcement of 2013. But what was left out of the Chancellor’s speech this morning was just as revealing as what was included.

The A&E crisis has dominated the headlines over the past few months, with investment in social care seen as one way to ease the pressure on hospitals. But despite rumours overstretched social care budgets would be given a boost today, on this the Chancellor was silent.

Such a commitment to extra funding would have been especially welcome given the second reading of the Care Bill in the House of Commons was also announced today. The Care Bill contains the biggest ever reforms to the social care system, and its debate on 16 December will be the first opportunity for MPs to debate changes to social care which will affect over half a million disabled people.

And providing good quality social care can bring huge economic benefits. George Osborne spoke at length in the Autumn Statement about the need to get the benefits bill down and get people working. For disabled people, social care is the cornerstone of their independence- the support they need to both seek and stay in employment.

Indeed, recent research by Deloitte has shown that investing in social care for disabled people with ‘moderate’ care needs – who the Government have stated they intend to shut out of the social care system by tightening up eligibility for care – creates considerable savings for the public purse. Deloitte found that for every £1 that is spent on moderate social care needs, £1.30 is saved through increased tax revenue to the Treasury and a reduction in welfare spending as a result of disabled people and informal carers entering the workplace, not to mention the significant savings to local authorities and the NHS from ensuring disabled people’s needs do not escalate to crisis point and therefore require more expensive medical treatment at a later date.

And when George Osborne states that the job of getting rid of the deficit ‘is not yet done’, these are financial savings that cannot be ignored.

Cap on over £100 billion of welfare further threatens disabled people’s living standards

Today, The Chancellor announced details of the planned cap on Annually Managed Expenditure (AME). Currently, the social security budget has the flexibility to respond to the needs of the economy and the people within it. In the Autumn Statement today we learnt this may no longer be the case.

At the beginning of each Parliament the Chancellor- with support from the House of Commons – will place limits on social security spend. Set in 2014 for the four years following, the cap will cover more than £100 billion welfare spending.

The basic state pension, Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and JSA-pass ported benefits will be excluded from the cap. But all other benefits – including Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Personal Independence Payments (PIP), Tax Credits and the majority of Housing Benefit – will still be in the cap.

What does the cap mean?

Raising the stakes

A breach of the cap will trigger a debate and vote in the House of Commons. This will further raise the stakes for policy-makers who want to ensure they can provide the right support for disabled people.

Welfare trade-offs

Housing Benefit and tax credits are counter-cyclical –they may rise sharply if the economy falters. If the economy takes a downward turn, ministers bound by the cap will be forced to pitch them against disability benefits in their decisions to bring down social security spending.

Today Osborne argued that including state pensions within the cap would mean “cutting pensions for those who’ve worked hard all their lives because the costs on, say, housing benefit for young people had got out of control.” Meanwhile, disability benefits which help many disabled people work and live independently – appear to be fair game.

Short-termism

The cap installs yearly limits to social security spending. Instead of tackling the drivers of it, ministers will be compelled to make quick, top-down cuts wherever they can.

Scope have long-argued that continued investment in social care, better employment support and proper support to cover the extra costs of being disabled would all be more effective in meeting disabled people’s needs and driving down costs than any cap on AME.

This autumn, the Chancellor has celebrated growth and responsible recovery. But it is a recovery that will not benefit disabled people. Instead disabled people will face yet another squeeze on living standards, and further exclusion from local communities and the wider economy.