As a nation, we are getting older. By 2035, those born in the post-war baby boom will be approaching their late eighties and owing to improved healthcare and better lifestyle choices they are also far more likely to reach this age than any previous generation. In Derby, within the next 20 years a quarter of our adult population will be over 65.
This shift in the makeup of society presents an enormous challenge for public services, which must be funded by tax revenues from a proportionally smaller working age population.
One area in which this change is felt most keenly is in the provision of adult social care. Since 2002, the number of over 85s has already increased by 34 per cent, yet spending on social care has been reduced by 10 per cent over the same period.
For those who have contributed to society their entire lives, paid their taxes and saved for their retirement, they should have the certainty that their care needs are going to be met. But for too many people in Britain, this is not the case.
While the Care Act has put additional responsibilities on local authorities, funding for adult social services has been significantly reduced. It is estimated that by 2019, the shortfall between demand for social care and the resources available will reach £2.8 billion.
In this climate, local authority care services are being stretched to breaking point, which is inevitably having a knock-on effect for our colleagues in the National Health Service. A recent report from the National Audit Office found that delays in discharging over 65s from hospital was costing the NHS over £820 million a year, while the number of days lost to bed-blocking increased by 31 per cent in the last two years alone.
To those in need of support, there is little distinction between medical needs and care needs, but our fragmented system means that while the health service is free at the point of access, care packages can be costly and difficult to access. What is evident is that the key to a sustainable system is greater coordination between local authority care services and the NHS.
In Derby, we have an excellent working relationship with our health partners. Together, we are doing all we can to relieve the burden on adult social care and provide a joined up service to those in need of support.
But without further action from the Government, the crisis in adult social care will only get worse. In the meantime, the burden is increasingly falling on family and friends, with around 1.5 million people in the UK providing over 50 hours of unpaid care every week.
The recent introduction of a two per cent Council Tax precept to fund adult social care provided some additional support, but it does not reflect the scale of the problem we face. What is more, the precept penalises those areas with low Council Tax bases and redistributes funding to the wealthiest areas of the country, where more people can afford to finance their own care.
By relying on local taxation, the Government is placing the burden on local communities to respond to a national crisis. In Derby, we are doing everything we can to protect statutory services from cuts and ensure the most vulnerable people are protected. But the reality is stark and the demographic figures are indisputable: without wholesale change, Councils up and down the country will be bankrupted by the spiralling cost of adult social care.
It’s time for the Government to take action before it’s too late.