Social care is in crisis – so why did the autumn statement not even mention it?

Meals on wheels. Image: Getty.

Today, we thought we would be settling in to a long analysis of local government funding. But the Autumn Statement was frankly breath-taking in its lack of policy detail – no real rabbits pulled out of hats or a gimmick to be seen.

While we were warned this may happen, this was not the budget we are used to seeing. Any substantial announcements were briefed in advance, including funding for housebuilding; but it was also missing policy detail that we were expecting, and there was very little for local government to get its teeth into.

There was some good news for local councils – the government has reconfirmed its commitment to devolution, with new deals set to go ahead. Increased national funding for productivity was positive, but there are no details as to how this money will be allocated and what it is likely to be spent on: devolution isn’t just about allocating funds to a region (appreciated though it is), but should be about transferring real autonomy and responsibility.

Most striking today though was the stark omission of any reference to health and social care spending. (Yes, we Ctrl + F-ed it). Local government, the NHS and a host of stakeholders have been stressing that the health and social care system is nearly at breaking point. Providers are already pulling out of the social care market as it becomes increasingly unsustainable, and the pressures falling on local authorities who have already seen their budgets slashed is increasing at an unprecedented rate. It won’t be long until start losing the battle. The chancellor’s decision to defer any major decisions is only going to entrench this problem.


Adding to cost pressures is the increase in the living wage. People need to be paid properly for the work that they are doing, and we welcome the increase in the living wage – but the impact on health and social care costs will be significant. According to the Chancellor today, a 30p per hour rise works out to over £500 a year for a full time worker. This will put a huge burden on local authorities, or more likely seriously limit the services they are able to provide. Living standards of workers should increase; but this should not be to the detriment of those most in need.

While ignoring the social care problem is a major worry to councils, the NHS should also be concerned. When social care is adequately provided, it reduces pressure on the NHS and other emergency services, not to mention the fact it improves quality of life for millions of people. By not making provision for this increase in cost, there is a substantial risk that situations escalate – and that ­­this extra care will end up being provided for by the already overstretched health service. 

While the health and social care crisis was worrying before, it is downright irresponsible to continue to ignore it.

Claire Porter is head of external affairs, and Claire Mansfield head of research, at the New Local Government Network. 

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How the big freeze of 1962-3 killed off Britain’s canals

Little Venice, London. This was actually 2010, but you get the idea. Image: Getty.

The English are internationally renowned for banging on about the weather. When British drizzle is compared to the hurricanes of the Caribbean or the cold faced by more landlocked countries, our complaining seems wholly unjustified.

Still, our weather can have ruinous effects on whole industries. The particularly cold winter of 1962-63 was the final nail in the coffin of a centuries old water-borne trade.

At one time canals played an essential role in the UK’s economy. In the early days of the industrial revolution, canals snaked across the map, connecting the coal mines of the countryside to the factories of cities. They fuelled the furnaces and kept the hearth fires burning, allowing for cities to rapidly grow in the closing years of the 18th century.

A map of British and Irish waterways. The canal network is in orange. Image: Peter Eastern/Wikimedia Commons.

Economics is rarely sentimental, though, and when more effective modes of travel came along the canals began their slow demise. Whereas European canals widened to accommodate for ever larger boats, the thin British canals –bar the mighty Manchester ship canal – slowly gave in to the supremacy of those new-fangled trains.

The rise of railway also saw the odd canal being bought and shut down by railway companies. In most cases this was simply about eliminating the competition, but in some the straight canals proved a perfect place for new railway tracks – the fate of South London’s Croydon Canal.

Still, the bargepeoples tightened their belts, and the canal system limped on as a viable option for freight until the early ‘60s, when nature came in with the knockout blow. The Big Freeze of 1962-3 was, as the name suggests, uniquely cold for the UK. Records going back as far as 1659 only recorded two winters colder, and the canal system froze solid.

Somerset, January 1963. The snow stayed for so long it stretched phone wires out of shape. Image: Howard Dublin/Wikimedia Commons.

Facing months of no service by barges, industries that had been reliant on the canals switched to alternatives on the rail and road networks. When the ice finally thawed, and with grim memories of that winter on mind, few returned to using the canals for freight. Besides having dire consequences for that years football calendar, the winter mostly finished canals as a component of British industry.

Luckily many of the canals themselves survived to be repurposed, first for leisure and more recently for living. London’s canal system currently holds around 5000 boats, 60 per cent of them permanent homes. These liveaboards, driven there by the desire for the slow life or the rest of the city’s crippling property prices, are changing the face of London’s waterways.
The water dwellers, along with those drawn to these lateral parks for leisure, have brought business back to the city’s canals. Now books shops, grocers, coffee shops and even bakeries can be found floating on the waters.

So next time the trope of the weather obsessed Brit comes up, you can scoff at other countries hailstones the size of Chihuahuas, or sun you can cook an egg in. Tell them that the weather has shaped British history, too – and with huge climatic shifts on the horizon, it shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

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