March 24: Growing crisis in care system

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THE growing cost to society of caring for the sick and vulnerable is graphically illustrated in a new report showing that more than half of the average council-tax bill will soon be spent on caring, leaving an ever-dwindling amount for councils’ other responsibilities.

The combination of reduced Government grants and the rising demand for care means that, by 2019/20, 60 pence out of every pound collected through council tax will be spent on caring, according to analysis by the Local Government Association, with consequently drastic reductions in the money available for other services.

Of course, with caring becoming such a priority for society, it is only right that council spending recognises this. And, despite councils’ protests, it is not clear that all other financial options have been exhausted. Have local authorities really got rid of all unnecessary jobs, trimmed senior officers’ salaries and made wise use of their reserves?

However, even if there is still no shortage of wasteful council spending, it is 
clear that the present situation is unsustainable. The LGA may believe that the answer is to protect local-authority funding, but the situation is far more worrying than that.

The care system has suffered years of underfunding which has left thousands of families in crisis, forced many to sell their homes, posed a threat to the retirement plans of millions of younger people and placed a huge burden on family members who have to devote huge amounts of time to acting as unpaid carers. Indeed, only today, new research shows that 70 per cent of working carers are feeling isolated at work as a result of their caring responsibilities.

The Government has announced a long-awaited overhaul of the social care system, but all the indications are that it will not be enough. The care system is in a deeper crisis than any politician dares to admit and the problem goes much further than a shortage of council funding.

Devolving power

Fairness not a consideration

it is to be hoped that whoever enters Downing Street after May’s General Election will take one look at the tangled mass of good intentions, half-kept promises and back-room deals that constitutes the present state of English devolution and take prompt action to sort it out.

If so, they will have not only the backing of this newspaper, but also a handy guide as to how to go about it in the form of a new report from the RSA think-tank calling for the establishment of a commission to evaluate bids from city-regions and hold the Government to account for the pace and progress of devolution.

Considering that such an arrangement has already been offered to Scotland in the form of the Smith Commission, it is surely both fair and sensible that the English regions should receive the same treatment.

Thus far in the devolution process, however, fairness and good sense seem to have taken a back seat to political calculation. For example, despite warm words about the need to unleash Yorkshire’s economic potential, Leeds and Sheffield have been offered significantly lesser deals than Manchester, apparently because they are reluctant to agree to having elected mayors, a key plank of the present Government’s regional policy.

Unfortunately, the desire to continue such machinations is the reason why neither Conservatives nor Labour will pay any attention to RSA’s good advice. It may make sense

to have devolution decisions based on clear and objective criteria. But if that means politicians giving up their powers of patronage, it is unlikely to happen.

Funeral for a king

Richard III is finally honoured

RICHARD III has again travelled to Bosworth Field, this time not to meet with death, dishonour and the ignominy of spending 526 years in a forgotten grave that was eventually uncovered beneath a Leicester car park.

This week Richard was finally given the honour worthy of England’s last Plantagenet king as he received a 21-gun salute, the applause of thousands of onlookers and a procession heralding five days of the type of pageantry conspicuously absent from his first funeral in 1485.

The white roses scattered on the monarch’s coffin were a welcome reminder that this is indeed Richard of York, who grew up in Middleham Castle and whose short reign was championed across all Yorkshire.

In 1485, however, those who truly mourned Richard were not allowed to do so. It is fitting that, 500 years too late, such injustices are finally being redressed.