Civilised society should be embarrassed by Britain’s social care system – leading economist tells Thaxted Labour meeting

Report on the talk by Dame Kate Barker – former government adviser on housing and health care and ex-member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee – at the Saffron Walden Constituency Labour Party All-Member Meeting, Thaxted 13 September 2018

Kate Barker began her talk by quoting a recent survey which found that 50% of people in England believe that social care, like most NHS services, is free. In fact it is actually means-tested. Many people therefore only discover the reality of the costs involved when the need for social care impacts on themselves and their families. However, although the demand for social care is growing in our society, with people living longer but developing longer-term health issues including dementia, governments of all parties have failed to create and fund the policies needed to address the issues adequately.

In 2014 Dame Kate produced a report for the King’s Fund think-tank entitled: ‘A new settlement for Health and Social Care.’ It made a number of recommendations, including the need for adequate funding, as well as integrating health care and social care in order to deliver coordinated services and rationalise the funding of the whole offering.

The main recommendations have not so far been taken up by government, and health care continues to be delivered through a centrally-funded NHS, while social care costs are borne by local authorities. This produces startling anomalies, whereby for instance treatment and care for cancer patients is correctly seen as an entitlement, while care for dementia most often has to be paid for by individuals and families when local authority funding falls short. NHS funding is ring-fenced, while social care funding is not. The organisations are separate and generally have different workforces.

When the NHS was established after World War 2, social care was less of an issue as people didn’t live as long as now, and ageing relatives tended to be cared for at home by younger female relatives. The NHS still tends to be regarded as unassailable, and issues around its funding and operation all too often deflect attention from the problems surrounding social care and the resources needed there.

The King’s Fund report panel listened to many ‘experts by experience’ – many of them people who had social care needs which were not being adequately met. Their testimony was often moving and pointed to systemic failings in delivery and its funding. During a discussion session at the meeting, several Labour members described situations within their own families which reflected the same problems of accessing and funding adequate care for their relatives, and the need to raise funds from family assets to cover care.

So the needs and the problems are stark, and this is coming home to people all the time throughout the country. And yet government still fails to grasp the social care nettle, despite pledges made during election campaigns.

Following the 2015 general election, the Government postponed for an uncertain period the implementation of the report commissioned from Sir Andrew Dilnot, which recommended protecting families from catastrophic social care costs (above £72,000). To fund the better care recommended in the King’s Fund report would cost at least £3bn annually now, rising to an estimated £5bn by 2025.

Kate Barker said: “The worrying aspect of the present debate is the focus on helping those who have some financial resources, rather than on extending care to those with limited resources whose needs are not being met – Age UK estimate these number 1.2 million.

“A civilised society should be embarrassed about this and prepared to share the burden of risk in social care as we do in health.  In addition, cuts in local authority funding has led to those in more deprived areas being less likely to receive support.”

She went on: “There is a stark divide between those with their own assets, and those with none, which the government is failing to address. In addition, local authorities, faced with the need to fund social care for the elderly in particular, have often been compelled to respond by cutting back on services for younger people, including those with housing, social and mental care needs.”

Over recent years a number of reports have put forward concrete proposals, including making pathways to care clearer, ensuring people can easily access information about entitlement, issuing personal care budgets to fund people’s needs, and free social care for those with the most critical needs.

The possibilities of compensating for social care funding by charging for some NHS services have not been taken up, even though this already applies to areas such as prescriptions, dental care and vision care.

Changes to taxation and National Insurance could also raise funds for social care, but are seen as no-go areas by a Government determined to keep taxation low to appeal to its electorate. In addition we already need to fund the promises to the NHS, which often succeeds in shouting more loudly than social care. But with the numbers over 85 requiring round-the-clock care expected to double by 2035, effective action must not be postponed again and the Green Paper due out this autumn must be a full response to the social care crisis.

Under-45s are Turning to Labour Due to Tory Failure – Labour Housing Spokesman Tells Local Meeting

John Healey in Mountfitchet estate, Stansted, with local Labour Party members

Labour’s Party’s Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey attacked Tory policies for failing to build enough social housing for local people during a visit to Saffron Walden constituency on Thursday (12 July). With the number of households on Uttlesford’s council house waiting list approaching 1,000, he said Uttlesford District Council “should deal with those at risk of being made homeless, because it offends people no matter how they vote that we have people without homes, particularly children.”

After meeting residents on the Mountfitchet estate in Stansted, Mr Healey told a packed local Labour party meeting, “The average monthly rent in this area is over £1,000, yet the average full-time weekly wage is under £500. No wonder that people with no family wealth behind them are struggling. No wonder that young people who grow up here and want to stay here simply can’t afford to either rent or to buy.

“The Tory record on housing is one reason why they did so badly in the last general election. Since they got into government, home ownership has declined to a 30 year low with a million fewer under-45s owning their own home than in 2010. No wonder so many under-45s turned against the Tories and switched to Labour at the last election.

“It’s Conservative ideology as much as Conservative policy that is failing to produce the answers that are needed. It’s only Labour that can come up with the ideas and the alternatives, the programme of action that’s going to be needed to help solve the housing crisis.

“For private renters, the situation is urgent. There’s 1.3 million households with families trying to raise children in houses in which they could be kicked out with less than two months without having breached the terms of their tenancy. This is the single biggest cause of homelessness.”

In addition to Labour’s national housing policies to freeze right-to-buy and support massive investment in council housing, Saffron Walden Labour Party is calling for realistic policies at Uttlesford District Council:

  • Create a voluntary landlords’ register so that private renters can choose to rent their homes from responsible landlords.
  • Establish a private tenants’ association to give private renters a voice and the ability to collectively organise for better conditions
  • Set up a landlords’ co-operative so that landlords can avoid the high charges from private lettings agencies and tenants can get a fairer deal. Uttlesford District Council should also establish a not-for-profit lettings agency.
  • 60% of housing in new garden communities in the local plan should be genuinely affordable by indexing them to average local wages, with council housing making up half this target.
  • All affordable housing should be based on modern “zero carbon” and safety standards.
  • Viability assessments for all housing developments should be publicly available.
  • Covenants should be put on the leases of all future properties sold under Right to Buy, prohibiting leaseholders from renting them out at anything above affordable rent.
  • Set up a local commission to examine innovative debt models, such as social housing bonds, as well as Public Works Loan Board borrowing and co-investment with asset managers to invest in social housing stock under council control.

Labour believes that by adopting these policies, by 2033 the planned garden community developments alone should yield 570 new council houses in North Uttlesford, 540 in Easton Park and 290 in West of Braintree with a similar number of affordable houses with different tenures and ownership options. This would ensure that garden communities would deliver affordable housing for 2,800 households with local families given the highest priority.

Daniel Brett, Saffron Walden Labour Party housing spokesman, said: “Labour believes that strong communities are based on families. Nationally and locally, the Tories have failed to deliver. Uttlesford is now dialling down its affordable housing target for garden communities in the local plan from 60 percent to 40 percent, subject to viability assessments that could drive the numbers down further.

“Our community’s young people are being pushed out of the district due to soaring housing costs and low wages, which is breaking family and community bonds. While other parties are arguing with each other over where to put housing, only Labour is arguing the case for building communities for the many and not the few and putting forward policies that are both radical and credible.”

Uttlesford has seen a net loss of more than 60 council properties since 2010 as right-to-buy has eroded the council’s housing stock. In 2017, despite 21 new social houses being built, 16 council homes were sold and 12 were demolished – a net loss of seven council houses. The proportion of the district’s housing stock in UDC ownership has fallen from 9.0 per cent in 2009 to 7.8 per cent in 2017. The number of social houses is increasingly provided by private registered providers who often sell what is supposed to be social rented housing on the market at a profit.

Tackling Declining Council Housing Should Be At The Heart Of The Local Plan

Now that the Local Plan is moving to the next stage following a council vote to go to public consultation, Saffron Walden Labour Party has called on Uttlesford District Council to put social housing at the centre of its housing strategy.

Uttlesford has seen a net loss of more than 60 council properties since 2010 as right-to-buy has eroded the council’s housing stock. In 2017, despite 21 new social houses being built, 16 council homes were sold and 12 were demolished – a net loss of seven council houses. The proportion of the housing stock in council ownership has fallen from 9.0 per cent in 2009 to 7.8 per cent in 2017.

Social housing is increasingly provided by ‘private registered providers’ who often sell what is supposed to be social rented housing on the market at a huge profit. An example is Hill House in Saffron Walden’s High Street, which consisted of low-rent housing association flats but is being turned into luxury apartments.

Daniel Brett, Saffron Walden Labour Party housing spokesman, said: “Labour believes that well-planned new towns with sufficient local employment opportunities are crucial to building genuinely affordable housing. Uttlesford must resolve its own broken housing market, address years of failed council policy on employment and do its bit to address the national housing crisis. The new garden communities are the best option and can help reduce the unplanned urban sprawl along arterial roads that cut through villages such as Newport, Takeley and Little Canfield.

“Local income growth is falling behind both inflation and local housing costs due to Uttlesford District Council’s failed economic development strategy. In 2017, the median wage paid in Uttlesford was £29,493, which represented a massive decline of nearly £1,100 since 2013 after accounting for inflation. Add into that local house prices with average housing prices roughly 12 times average local wages. Uttlesford needs a strategy to help deliver higher wages, more local employment and lower house prices to improve standards of living.

“Our community’s young people are being pushed out of the district due to soaring housing costs and low wages while those in retirement on fixed income pensions are also struggling. Local statistics show that 60 per cent on the council waiting list require one-bedroom accommodation with more than half of these eligible for housing for the over-60s. Yet, just a fifth of council stock is one bedroom. This imbalance needs to be addressed.”

Saffron Walden Labour Party is calling for the following measures:

  • The Tenants Forum – an elected body representing local tenants and leaseholders at the council’s Housing Board – should be at the heart of discussions in the next stage of the local plan.
  • The local authority should develop affordable housing that reflects local wages and universal credit and not indexed to market prices.
  • The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) definition of garden cities should be included as policy, which means a commitment to most new houses as affordable (60-70 per cent), half of which should be socially rented.
  • All social rented accommodation delivered in these garden communities should be owned by the local authority.
  • Ambitious Development Planning Documents (DPD) for distinctive garden settlements including high quality housing with low carbon, low water consumption, as well as plenty of amenity land and cycleways that directly connect with public transport.
  • Our member of parliament should be active in campaigning for changes to planning laws that ensure: viability assessments do not undermine affordable housing targets; the council can expand its housing stock without attrition from right-to-buy; and that other agencies have the funds to deliver the healthcare, education, roads and public transport that new communities need to be sustainable and successful.

Government Reforms Must Free Uttlesford To Invest In More Council Housing

Government plans to reform the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) will not resolve the yawning deficit in genuinely affordable housing in Uttlesford, said Saffron Walden Labour Party this week.

Theresa May has pledged to end the abuse of the viability assessment by developers, which has enabled them to negotiate down their affordable housing commitments. This would not be an issue if Uttlesford was not reliant on the goodwill of developers to leverage housing commitments for local need.

Uttlesford needs the power to build more council houses, instead of forever being at the mercy of profiteering developers. Tinkering around the edges of the planning system is far from the change needed to provide sufficient homes for local need.

Daniel Brett, Saffron Walden Labour housing spokesman, said: “Due to massive rises in local housing costs, there are just under 1,000 households on the Uttlesford council housing waiting list. Despite some limited council house building in recent years, the council housing stock still fails to meet the quantity and pattern of demand.

“With the average housing price at 10 times the average salary in Uttlesford, the area is rapidly pushing out local families from the community. ‘Affordable’ housing at 80 per cent of market rates, which is the standard definition, is still out of the reach of many local households. The council can’t meet current demand for social housing, let alone future requirements.

“If the government really wants to address the housing crisis, it should end right-to-buy and relax restrictions on council borrowing for investing in council housing.

“Instead of relying on Section 106 agreements with developers, Uttlesford must be free to borrow the money to build a new generation of council houses that are truly affordable, as recommended by the Treasury Select Committee.

“The benefit of local authority building is to have a long-term plan that would enable Uttlesford to control assets and recoup costs, rather than being always at the mercy of developers who prioritise profits.”

In February, there were 993 households on Uttlesford’s waiting list. Of these, just over 60 per cent require one-bed accommodation with over half of these eligible for accommodation designated for people over 60 whether that be a bungalow or sheltered housing. However, the social housing stock does not match demand with over three-quarters being two- and three-bedroom houses, according to local authority housing data published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.