Debate about social care dominated the general election and proposals for a green paper on funding were included in the Queen’s speech. The government’s supporting commentary stated, however, that it would work to address the challenges of social care for “our ageing population” and the “increasing numbers of over-75s”. The Local Government Association (LGA) estimates that children’s services face a £2bn funding gap by 2020. Why is the government ignoring the funding crisis facing children’s social care?
Together for Short Lives provides support for around 49,000 children and young people with life-limiting and life-threatening conditions across the country. These are some of the most vulnerable children in society, with voices that are too often not heard or ignored. They and their families rely heavily on social care.
Social care for these children and their families includes short breaks for respite, which local authorities in England have a legal duty to provide. These allow carers to rest and spend time with their children as parents. For seriously ill children, short breaks offer a chance to spend time with their peers and be independent for a few hours or days. Other aspects of social care, such as providing equipment, transport, counselling and help for home adaptation, are also crucial.
These services should be part of local approaches to children’s palliative care that are planned, funded and monitored by NHS organisations and local authorities. Yet our research found that in 2016, despite the vital role local authorities ought to play, only 19% said they commissioned children’s palliative care.
Charities that provide children’s palliative care, including hospice organisations, tell us that council funding fell by 61% between 2014-15 and 2015-16. It now contributes just 1% of their costs.
Together for Short Lives is working with the LGA and NHS to help councils understand what they are responsible for with regard to planning and funding for children with life-limiting conditions. But we need government to do its bit: ministers must extend their planned consultation on a future funding model for social care to include children and young people’s services.
There are some wonderful opportunities if we can find a solution that works: carers who stay resilient and healthy, and children with life-limiting conditions who can achieve what they want from life, such as making friends, going to school and even visiting the cinema.
If we fail, we risk leaving the most vulnerable children in our society and their families at breaking point, and an already overstretched NHS will be forced to pick up the pieces.
Theresa May has committed to a consultation on social care. It is vital that this focuses on children as well as adults – we should not concentrate on the problems of today at the expense of tomorrow.
Barbara Gelb is chief executive of Together for Short Lives
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