Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had to spell out exactly how much the Conservative Party cut social care spending as Prime Minister Theresa May appeared to suffer temporary memory loss at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday 14 November.
In the last PMQs of the year, Corbyn challenged May to state how much her party had cut spending on social care in the last parliament, after it emerged 1.2 million older people are not receiving the care that they need.
Could the Prime Minister take this opportunity to inform the House exactly how much was cut from the social care budget in the last parliament?
To jeers from the Labour benches, May refused point blank to answer the question. Instead, May stumbled over lines drawn up by her advisers:
We have been putting more money into social care and health. As I say, we recognise the pressures that exist, that’s why we will be looking at short-term pressure that exist in relation to social care. But you cannot look at this question as simply being an issue of money in the short term. It is delivery, it is about reform it is about the social care system working with the health system.
Corbyn decided to help her out. To May’s obvious discomfort, he reminded her that the government she was part of slashed £4.6bn from social care.
The Prime Minister doesn’t seem to be aware that £4.6bn was cut from the social budget in the last parliament, and that her talk of putting it onto local government ought to be taken for what it is: a con.
Social care is widely considered to be crisis. Hospital beds are being occupied by elderly people who would be better off elsewhere. And care homes are closing at an unprecedented rate. The Care Quality Commission warned as recently as October that the system was approaching a “tipping point”.
Even Conservative MPs recognise the problem. The former chair of the Health Select Committee, Stephen Dorell, has said the system is inadequately funded. And current chair Dr Sarah Wollaston has said the issue can’t be ducked any longer because of the impact it is having not just on vulnerable people but also on the NHS.
May has consistently sought to shift the blame onto local authorities. And this PMQs was no different. She highlighted variations in performance as if that explained the scale of the crisis:
There is a difference in delivery across the country. We need to make sure that reform is taking place so we see best practice in terms of integration of health and social care across the country.
May also claimed the government was increasing funding. She said that the 2% “social care precept” added to most council tax bills this financial year was helping.
The Labour leader was having none of it. He accused her of “passing the buck”. He pointed out that the money generated by the precept was nowhere near enough:
95% of councils used this social care precept and it raised less than 3% of money they planned to spend on adult social care.
There is also a considerable difference between the revenue raised by the precept in poorer areas and wealthy areas.
Corbyn said council tax raises “vastly more” in Windsor and Maidenhead than in Liverpool or Newcastle. He then landed a killer blow on the foundering May:
Is she saying that frail old vulnerable people are less valuable in our big cities than they are in wealthy parts of the country?
To cheers from Labour MPs, he added the government could fund social care by ditching the cut to corporation tax:
Why doesn’t she do something really bold? Cancel the corporation tax cut and put the money into social care instead!
May ignored the challenge. Like a broken record, she returned to her point that it couldn’t possibly be her fault because some local authorities are doing better than others:
The difference between the worst-performing council in relation to delayed discharges and the best is a 20-fold difference. That’s not about a difference of funding, it’s about a difference of delivery.
Corbyn replied that councils are struggling to cope with a 40% cut to their budgets:
This is a social care system that’s deep in crisis. The crisis is made in Downing Street by this government.
You can watch the full exchange here:
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Featured image via screengrabs