Response to Autumn Budget 2018
The Chancellor opened his 2018 Budget speech by describing it as ‘a Budget for the strivers, the grafters and the carers’, an interesting formulation which raised hopes of decisive intervention to provide much-needed support for unpaid carers and the struggling social care system.
As it turned out, despite hints in advance that the Budget would herald an end to austerity, the major decisions on the UK’s long-term tax and spending plans will not be made until the Comprehensive Spending Review, scheduled for Spring 2019.
While the Budget contained some welcome announcements, particularly around social care and mental health services, it was confined largely to short-term measures and left many big questions unanswered.
Key announcements on social care included an extra £650 million for English local authorities to fund both adults’ and children’s social care in 2019-20, as well as £55 million of extra funding for Disabled Facilities Grants in 2018-19. This short-term funding injection will be welcomed by a social care system which is grappling with major financial pressures. However, it means that the crucial decision over a long-term funding settlement for social care services has been put off once again.
The Government’s long-awaited social care green paper is expected before the end of this year, and the key decisions on a future funding settlement are not now likely to be made until Spring 2019. The ongoing uncertainty on this vital issue is very disappointing, particularly to the millions of social care users and unpaid carers who urgently need access to better support.
The Chancellor confirmed the Government’s previous announcement that by 2023-2, real terms spending on the NHS will increase by £20.5 billion.
He also announced that the forthcoming NHS England 10 Year Plan will focus strongly on mental health services, including £250 million a year for funding a new mental health crisis service, with ‘comprehensive’ mental health support in every A&E department and a 24-hour mental health crisis hotline.
Although the additional NHS funding was expected, the Chancellor’s announcement confirms that the health service is the biggest beneficiary of this year’s Budget spending.
On welfare issues, all eyes were on the Chancellor to see if there would be any delay to the planned rollout of Universal Credit, following widespread criticism of the Government’s plans for implementation.
The Chancellor struck a defiant note on this issue, stating that ‘Universal Credit is here to stay.’ However, his announcement of an extra £1 billion of funding to aid the transition to Universal Credit over the next 5 years reflected the Government’s nervousness over the criticism it has received, including from Conservative stalwarts such as Iain Duncan Smith.
The extra funding will be targeted at ‘additional protections’ for existing claimants transferring to Universal Credit, the details of which will be announced at a later date. In addition, the Chancellor announced that Work Allowances under Universal Credit will be increased by £1,000 per annum, allowing claimants to keep more of their earned income without losing their benefits.
While these changes are positive, serious concerns remain about the Government’s plans for the rollout of Universal Credit, particularly as they relate to disabled claimants.
These include the fact that existing benefits claims will be terminated, so that applicants need to navigate a complex new claims process for Universal Credit; and the requirement that all claimants will have to attend an interview with a work coach, even those who have had to give up their career aspirations due to a terminal and progressive health condition such as MND. As a result, the Chancellor’s interventions are unlikely to quiet calls for a more comprehensive rethink of the implementation timetable.
Overall, this was a Budget that focused on short-term measures while leaving the big questions for another day. The 2019 Spring Spending Review will be the key decision-making point for the UK’s long-term fiscal direction, and may be the point where the hints of ‘an end to austerity’ translate into more significant announcements on public spending.
However, for an under-pressure service such as social care, today’s Budget was a missed opportunity and heralds an even longer wait for the sustainable, long-term funding solution that it so badly needs.