The government has failed again to address the need for significant emergency investment in social care in the Comprehensive Spending Review, according to leading learning disability and autism charities.

The charities welcomed a new grant funding for local authorities, amounting to £1.6 billion a year for the next three years, and an additional £1.7 billion to be provided over three years to improve the wider social care system.

They also said that the National Living Wage increase by 6.6% to £9.50 an hour will help staff in vital frontline roles continue supporting adults with learning disabilities.

Yet concerns were raised that the sector will need to wait three years to see all the funding for social care in place and it is not the immediate cash injection required to stabilise the sector. Also questions still remain as to the extent to which it will reach social care providers to ensure the people who need it most will benefit.

Kirsty Matthews, CEO of Hft, a national charity supporting adults with learning disabilities, said: “It is disheartening to find social care remains largely absent from the government’s agenda. Far from an ‘age of optimism’ the Comprehensive Spending Review does not provide sufficient investment in the future of our sector.

“It is disappointing that the government’s agenda to ‘Build Back Better’ largely excludes social care. It is hard to see how they will achieve their ambition to ‘Level Up’ all areas of society, without investing in a sector employing a 1.5 million strong workforce integral to providing vital support to some of the most vulnerable people in society.” 

Spending Review and new Autism Strategy

The Budget and Spending Review sets out the government’s tax and spending priorities over the next few years. It also sets out funding for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each nation’s government will decide how this is spent. Funding will rise by an average of £4.6bn for Scottish Government, £2.5bn for Welsh Government, and £1.6bn for Northern Ireland Executive.  

The National Autistic Society said it was pleased that there will be more money for the NHS and long-term funding for social care, which will help many autistic people and families. But it was worried about the lack of immediate funding for social care.

It added that the Spending Review did not specifically set out how the new autism strategy for England will be funded, beyond its first year. The charity urged the government to tell autistic people and families how they will use the money announced to meet the important commitments they made in the autism strategy.

Tim Nicholls, Head of Policy, Public Affairs and Research Partnerships at the National Autistic Society said: “We welcomed many of the autism strategy’s commitments, but for this to be a truly successful five-year strategy it is critical that the government provides the appropriate funding for the next four years and beyond, as soon as possible. We will continue to call for this to make sure the government provides autistic people and their families with the vital support they need.” 

Health and Social Care Levy

The new Health and Social Care Levy was announced recently, with an increase to the rates of dividend tax, and is expected to raise around £13 billion per year for spending on health and social care across the UK. The government said this will enables significant further funding for the NHS, for the government’s reforms to social care, public health and prevention programmes, and investment in training the workforce of the future.

Of this, £2 billion will be provided to improve services for identifying health needs, including setting up at least 100 community diagnostic services across England and £8 billion will tackle the backlog in appointments for elective, or non-emergency, appointments.

In addition, at least £500 million will go towards improving the skills, qualifications and wellbeing of the social care workforce. 

Edel Harris, Chief Executive of Mencap, said that the increases to local authority funding and national minimum wage are a step in the right direction but they do not scratch the surface of the immediate need for care and support today.

She added: “The budget and Spending Review feels like another missed opportunity to ‘level up’ social care. A failure to address head-on the financial and workforce crisis in the sector is a failure to acknowledge that many people with a learning disability, and their families, are struggling day in and day out. They will bear the brunt of the lack of commitment we have seen from the government.

“We may no longer be in a national lockdown but the current crisis in social care will make this winter feel like an extended lockdown for many people with a learning disability and their loved ones. Care packages have been cut, people have been landed with huge bills for their care and many are on a long waiting list.

“On top of that, there simply aren’t enough care workers. There will be many people dreading this winter; we had expected more from the UK government.”

Education and children’s social care 

The government announced £2.2 billion new funding over the next three years for new school places for children with special educational needs and disabilities. There will also be £201 million to transform Start for Life and create a network of Family Hubs to provide early support.  

A further £259 million will be provided over the Spending Review period to maintain capacity in and expand secure and open residential children’s homes. 

Yet the Disabled Children’s Partnership said that although it was encouraging to see some signs that the government is recognising the need to invest in support for disabled children and their families, there is no dedicated new funding for disabled children’s health and social care. 

Amanda Batten, Chair of the Disabled Children’s Partnership and CEO of Contact, said: “Without dedicated new funding for disabled children’s health and social care, the spending review falls short from providing the world class public services promised by the Chancellor for disabled children, young people and their families.

“The Disabled Children’s Partnership has been campaigning for more funding for short breaks and respite services for families with disabled children, and the support their children need to make up for progress lost during the pandemic. We are sad that this has not been achieved this, and want to thank all the parents, families, organisations, MPs and civil servants who campaigned and championed disabled children in the lead up to the Spending Review.”

The charity said it will continue campaigning to ensure that the funding for education recovery and local authorities reaches disabled children. It added that with so many children with SEND struggling to get the right school placement, the additional capital funding for specialist places is welcome. But this capital investment needs to be matched with the revenue funding for the teachers, therapists and other specialists to staff new places. And, of course, most children with SEND are educated in mainstream schools, so will not benefit from this funding.

It also highlighted that nearly three quarters of disabled children have seen their progress managing their conditions regress during the pandemic, as already stretched health and care services were further restricted.

Amanda added: “It is difficult to see from the spending review how the government expects to meet rising needs, and a backlog of assessments, and ensure that families get the health and care support to which they are entitled - despite the promise of ‘world class public services’.

“Moving forward, the Departments for Education; Health and Social Care; and Levelling Up must set out how they will use the funding they’ve received to help disabled children and families recover lost progress, catch-up on the health and care services they’ve missed in the pandemic, and address the long-term shortfalls in support. The long-awaited SEND review must also ensure that every family with a disabled child can access the support they deserve to live a healthy, happy life.”

Mental health funding

Mental health services will see £300 million of funding by 2024-25, which will help to complete the government’s programme to replace over 1,200 beds in mental health dormitories across more than 50 sites with new single, en suite rooms. 

A new budget of £150 million will also be invested in NHS mental health facilities linked to A&E and helping to enhance patient safety in mental health units.  

Tim Cooper, chief executive of learning disability charity United Response, said: “The adult social care sector is beyond breaking point, with even the Care Quality Commission conceding that the strain on its workforce has now intensified to the point of burnout.

“Early on in his premiership Boris promised to fix social care. His announcement in early September of plans for the reform of older person’s care marked a positive step forward, but they do not on their own amount to delivery of his promise.

“So come on Boris, come on Rishi – don’t leave the job half done. Level up social care now.”